Thursday, 8 September 2016

See it Thru

My book club this month invited Richard Judy to our meeting, who is the author of 'Thru: An Appalachian Trail love story.' Always wary of being told what to read next, I approached this book with hesitation and general disinterest. Twice, I started, and abandoned it.

Then the day just before the meet, I decided to sit down and get into it and boy, was it fun.

Richard Judy starkly different from many books about the Trail, tells his story in a fictionalized form. His characters though based in reality, are a work of his imagination, and a great one for that.
The novel itself is told in a fascinating format; as journal entries by the hikers in the various locations that they stop at.

It tells the story of about six to seven people (it varies), who intend to thru-hike to the Northern top of the Appalachian trail (There's a map and everything, so do not let my lack of geography stop you). During this thru-hike, they have many adventures, and form many relationships, bound to last a lifetime. The book is full of ups and downs, and a refreshing change from the monotone that usually accompanies non-fiction books about the trail (Monotone isn't bad, but its nice to switch it up).
I absolutely would not be hiking,
but I got this at the absolute start of the Trail


Another fact that sets this book apart is its characters. In non-fiction works, a reader's imagination is involved to a certain extent. Non fiction is mostly (here's looking at you, James Frey) an account of what really happened. Whereas, fiction allows you to expand and limit your imagination according to your limits. Don't like someone? Just stop imagining them too much and you are good. And this book gives you the room to do just that. It also helps you do it, with each character narrative being entirely different and switching at just about the right moment.

I love the idea of hiking and the outdoors in theory, so my books are the way I make sure the idea stays away from manifesting into a real life struggle at staying alive. This book made me almost give it a shot.

Icing on the cake, the author is an amazing, nice person who has thru-hiked the Appalachian trail twice. He is also on the committee for the Appalachian Trail maintenance and they actually published this book. All the proceeds from the sale of this book go directly into maintaining the trail. As Captain Stupid (Ignatius Reilly's lost twin brother, I am certain) would have said, 'Yay.'

Monday, 29 August 2016

Embracing Sucking at Something

For the past three months, I have been trying to participate in read-a-thons. You can even scroll down my blog and read through my two attempts that I managed to document.

So when the Bout of Books 17.0 finally finished this weekend, I did a little soul searching, to get to the bottom of my heathen habits.

Here are the list of reasons I came up with for sucking at read-a-thons;

1) I suck at keeping commitments I am not bound to keep.
This sounds bad, and it is. But usually, if there is not this insane amount of pressure on me to get something done, I will probably not do it. Same goes for read-a-thons. On most days, I don't feel like sitting hours and hours reading books, and when it is due to failure of commitment, the feeling of accomplishment that follows, is not a strong enough cue.

2) I get distracted easily.
I have a million hobbies. A million chores that need to be done daily. A million people I need to give time to before I can pick up a book. All these things are on most days, exhausting. And when push comes to shove and I have time to pick up a book, that pesky remote eyes me and I end up watching Netflix instead.

3) I like my bookish plans to be spontaneous.
I love making lists. I love making plans. And read-a-thons combine all that into one. But I think, my reading and my books are one thing I do not like planned. I like the fact that I pick up a book at random times of the day or on some days not at all. I like my varying patterns of reading 100 pages in one sitting, and somedays barely making through 5. This I think is the strongest reason why I do not do read-a-thons well.
When everything in life needs to be done at a certain time and by a certain time, its nice to know that there is something you can do as you please, when you please.


On Detaching Yourself

How does one detach themselves from a piece of fiction that they are reading? Does it even make sense to do that?

I am currently reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and while that book is beautifully written, it is intense. Blunt and glaring descriptions of slavery and violence, often times this book is hard to digest. But as I am reading it, I can feel that it is something important. That I should not shy away from it because this is not just fiction based in non-reality, but actual reality for people who were living at that time. I should not shy away from understanding what they went through, if only to appreciate how far along we have come as humans and how far along we still have to go.



So I am wondering now, should I even try to detach myself from the characters, or open myself to an experience like never before? Just raw and real emotions which will quite possible make me a changed person. For now, I am just going with the flow and dropping the book whenever it gets too intense, and reading something else. I highly recommend it to everyone though. It’s a work of art, and if it makes you check your privilege, then that is just an introspective experience you cannot miss.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

D is for Diverse

I have been an immigrant since the day I was born. When I was born my parents had already immigrated to UAE from Pakistan and when I got married I moved to USA. So, the concepts of nationhood and a place to call my own have usually revolved around the locations of my loved ones.
But when I entered into the world of books I realized that feelings of isolation in different cultures, the need to belong were real feelings which people around me were constantly aware of. That is the first time I decided to diversify my reading and read more authors belonging to similar cultures as that of mine. Maybe the feelings I was not feeling was maybe because I could not tap into them. That was the first time I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth and Arundathi Roy's God of Small Things.

Ever since then I have tried to read authors of different cultures, non-white to make it simple. Authors like Celeste Ng, Ruth Ozeki, Chimondi...in order to grasp the void that everyone was feeling once they left their countries, their lands. I felt left out because somehow something in me was missing and I did not feel the need to find my own people, or to belong, I had been an alien ever since I was born and I was perfectly comfortable in it.

When I moved to the US, my reading preferences changed once again. Somehow unconsciously, the number of books on my shelves started to be by all white authors; male and female. The diversification that had been taking place in my reading before somehow was disappearing. I was avoiding authors that were non-white for the sheer reason that they could not communicate in English as well as the authors whose mother tongue was English (Despicable, I know).

Another reason why I often stayed away from such books was because I always felt that these books had exploitative depressing undertones. I had rarely read a book that was light or described a happy experience and that in my head was a good enough reason to not read them. But in my adventures as an adult  i have realized that you have got to take the sad with the glad. Over the past week  articles about the importance of reading diversely have surfaced, and I have made a decision once again. I removed all the books by non-white authors on my shelves and put them in front of me in my home office.

Over the remaining months my reading choices are going to involve authors that are not white. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that these authors should be given preference over white authors, who so clearly are brilliant at what they do as well and earn their fame and name. It is just that I as an individual want to give other authors a chance too. When I have a conversation with someone about books I don't just want to give them names of authors like Stephen King, Grisham, Austen, Wharton (All of who are absolutely brilliant, btw), but I would like to name authors from all over the world. You know, 'Celeste Ng? She wrote a brilliant book about inter-racial marriage and coming to terms with being an immigrant in a foreign land.' You know Ruth Ozeki? She wrote a great book about how you may leave your homeland, once you come back it is never quite the same as you thought it would be. These are the kinds of conversations I want to be having. I want to be more empathetic
as I grow. I want to stop and understand where someone is coming from rather than label them or blame their ethnicity for it. I want to be a better person, and I think books are the best way to help me do it.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

A silent chronicle

Imagine a hot, arid desert. Imagine the feeling of hopelessness you feel as you run out of food, run out of water. This is the feeling that this book invoked in me. Chronicling the life of an un-named narrator from childhood to adulthood, the author captures the feeling of distance and aloofness that all of us often feel towards the events happening around us. The feeling and desire to do something, but somehow always falling short of it. 


With its lyrical prose you watch a young girl grow in Egypt and get to witness the Arab Spring through the eyes of a female. However, the female does not indulge much in the movement, nor does she have any ideas about it,  and that angle remains unexplored. 
I would recommend this book to those looking for a fast, yet also somewhat substantial read about a city that has lost its soul. Apart from that there is not much that this book promises.

You can find out more about the author and her other works and thoughts at;  https://twitter.com/yasminerashidi
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for review. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

T's the season to be reading

With the advent of summers comes the onslaught of read-a-thons. As I have already mentioned in a post below,  the concept of read-a-thons has always intrigued me. While trying to participate in it many times, formally and informally, I have failed, well, because of life (and my weak eyes, but that is a story for another day).

This time, when Book-tube-a-thon came around and I had nothing but a few internships going for me, I decided to jump on that wagon and drive it to the finish line. Now I am not part of the Booktube community (yet), it has helped a lot with my passion for books and helping me get creative and vocal about my interests in books.

So far, its been three days in, and may I just say its been going good? I have finished a 400 page book and read about 126 pages of another graphic novel. I am about to start another book today hopefully and will hopefully get quite a good chunk done by the end of the week. It is exciting creating challenges for yourself in your hobby, but I don't want to jinx it just yet so I will hold up on the final wrap up of the readathon for more details about how it went.

The Booktubeathon also has seven challenges going on, two of which I am almost done with!

1) Read a book with a yellow on the cover (DONE)
2) Read a book that Booktube made you read (Almost done)
3) Read a book and watch the movie adaptation for it
4) Read a book after sunset
5) Read a book by your favorite author
6) Read a book that is older than you
7) Read 7 books

The contenders for the other 5 challengers are still to be decided, but so far its going great.

If you would like to participate, visit >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98afk8wZEmI

If you would like to see updates on instagram and me partake in the daily instagram challenges, visit >> https://www.instagram.com/nusrah003/


Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Kind Worth Reading

So the other day I was telling my husband the story of the thriller ‘The kind worth killing,’ by Peter Swanson. I was on a complete high from that book and I think it showed in my frantic story-telling, unfortunately to be matched by my husband’s skeptic expression. Now to anyone who has have ever told a story, a skeptic expression is the last thing you want to proceed your story. And then he said it, ‘Why couldn’t you just have watched a movie like this, would have ended quicker and you would have had the same entertainment value?’


My inner voice gasped. Was what my husband saying true? Was it better in some cases to simply watch a movie and spend your two days reading something else? My whole belief system was shattered. Was the movie better than the book in some cases? After what seemed like a lifetime but was barely a minute, my inner voice calmed down and replied with a resounding, ‘No!’

Then I got to thinking. As a reader, why will I always prefer the book over the movie? Well most times anyway. 

The first is sort of obvious. It has been mentioned many times. Reading a book is a an ‘active’ activity. When engaged in it, your head has to be fully in it or else that activity ceases to happen. Not to sound too melodramatic, but doesn’t this sort of make reading a mediative exercise? Aren’t escapism and getting so lost in a book just various forms of mindful meditation? I know that is what I felt when I read The kind worth killing. I read this book for two hours straight, so immersed that after I finished I had a very splitting pain in my arm.

Following from the above then is the sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a book. I know everyone knows what I am talking about. This is the sense that I think us readers get addicted to. A sense for which we trudge through books we are not completely invested in, books that we do not completely understand, just to feel that feel of knowing that you finish something that was made of pages and words, and its pretty much amazing. 


Last but not at all the least, need I elaborate over the empathy that books invoke in me? Books allow me to detach myself from my perceptions and judgements and to step into someone else’s shoes, if only figuratively. They give me the details, help me paint a picture that movies do not allow. In a movie my imagination is never engaged, what I feel for characters seems transitory. I have experienced this feeling many times, but I felt the full thrust of it when I read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I was not a fan of the two main characters, but I was so invested in their story, their struggles, where they were coming from, that I could not stop reading. All I could think of was their story and even though they both had done some pretty despicable things, I empathized, if not loved them till the end. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Less Hoarding, More Reading


So yesterday I was doing a marathon of the Lord of the Rings series with my husband. Now whenever we watch Lord of the rings, our energy levels are through the roof. We watch it, we analyze it, heck, give us a pen and paper and we will write you ten page essays on the nuances contained with the series. 

One of the themes we often discuss by the time we get to the third movie, is greed. How humans are rot with it, and how it never stops. While we were discussing this, I took a sly glance towards the many books that line our entire living room and got to wondering. Was my book hoarding a manifestation of the greed embodied by Golem and so many of the others in the series? Were books essentially my one big ‘precious?’

Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe that there can possibly be no better way to spend your money except for on books. But for a person like me, who is a slow reader and barely gets time to read, how many books are too many books? At this point, after doing an exhaustive count, I have concluded 400 for now. 

So today after placing my final large order on Barnes and Noble for five books, I have decided to do something. I am aiming for a Project Zero of sorts. Well not really zero at all. Just an attempt to tame my inner greed for books and more books. If for no other reason than to not end up like Golem (And trust me, I have had nights where the thought of going to bookshops has kept me up at nights). 

For the whole month of July, I shall be reading more and buying less. I am going to go cold turkey and not buy anything for the month of July. Just to know that my precious-es have not taken over me and I won’t start eating raw fish anytime soon. 


Check back in a month to make sure I have not bitten off any fingers in the process. 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Things I am so over in Romance novels

Yes, I read romance novels. They are not my most sought out genre, but I do like to pick one now and again. And I make no apologies for it. Those of you who are sticking their nose up in the air, better hope it doesn’t get stuck like that. 

My interest in romance novels has a long history. From the first Mills and Boon in 8th grade to Sarah Maclean today. While I have not read many, I have coveted them often. Only to be disappointed however by the repetitive and trope-y aspects. I am here to share some of them with you. 

First and foremost, the heroines. Oh lord, the heroines. They are either; a spinster with large bosoms, or a beautiful petunia looking to be wed. Nope its never in between. While some authors do try to mix this up a bit, it always comes down to this. Let me elaborate a bit more.

The spinster 


Description: Usually a headstrong, determined woman. That is, till she meets the right guy. And by right guy I mean one fourth cup of cute and the three fourth cup an asshole. 
Physical features include: Big bosoms and a plump figure, long hair which she likes to keep tied in a bun till her handsome hunk comes and feels the need to unpin it all, and may or may not have dark skin. 
What is wrong with this? What starts off as a headstrong woman quickly becomes a woman who cannot keep her judgement intact in the company of a good looking man, and soon loses all discretion and self respect in the name of love, and therefore loses the right to be called headstrong. The physical features are important because what constitutes as an account of a woman more than her looks, the story soon becomes more about nibbling each other’s necks and releasing the ample bosoms from the corsets. 

The beautiful petunia looking out only for a suitable match

Description: Wants to get married.
Physical features include: Whatever will get her married the fastest. 
What is wrong with this? There is nothing wrong with wanting to get married. But in these books, it always seems like the heroines want to get married for all the wrong reasons. If it is not to attend the fancy balls, it is for all the pretty clothes. There is never a real look into what marriage entails, like never, and that bugs me. 

Then come the heroes. They are usually simple to classify too; classic asshole, sly asshole, the goody goody which drives to the asshole in the first place. 


Classic asshole 

Description: Leads the woman on by abruptly kissing her and groping her. Will act aloof later on. Will be jealous when feeling reciprocated. Will again grope the heroine demanding explanation. Will act aloof again. Repeat this for a good 200 pages. Will redeem himself by some heroic act. Goes back to being an asshole, but now with a girl. 
Physical features include: Big chest, big shoulders, big thighs, big everything. 
What is wrong with this? You are kidding right? What sort of guys are these heroines who are supposed to be sensible interested in? Aren’t these heroes just abusive love interests but really fluffed up?

Sly asshole 

Description: Oh you gotta watch out for these, they are really sly. Thus, the name. These are the ones that usually appear when the classic asshole becomes too much to handle and the sly asshole swoops in with some snarky remark or two, saves the heroine. This is the adult version of the childhood rule, ‘If he is mean to you, he likes you.’ 
Physical features include: Everything Big. 
What is wrong with this? He is no better really. 

The goody goody 

Description: Too much of a norm follower. Will not even look at his betrothed in a room full of people. Pinch a bottom every now and then, jeez! (Only of your betrothed though). 
Physical features: Complete opposite of big. 
What is wrong with this? There is nothing essentially wrong with this. We all know people who are prudent. What is wrong with this though is the lack of dimensionality in the characters. Usually and always these are the characters that drive heroines to seek out above mentioned assholes. Once I would like a heroine to appreciate a guy who respects her enough to not treat her as his property. And for once I would like a prudent hero to be a fireball in other areas. 


The lack of historical in historical romance 


Have you ever picked up a romance novel intrigued by the promise of a historic setting? Have you ever flung the book on the wall when it fails to deliver what it promised. Yeah, me too. It feels like most of the historical romance novels out there use the historic setting as a background. They always promise more, but somehow they never deliver much except for in the categories of; expectation from women, and the way men and women dressed back then. 

I understand that people often turn to romance novels in order to escape. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with the genre either, or the fact that you can always find a happy ending in it. Rather it is the hijacking of the genre by authors and turning it into formulaic dribble which is one of the reasons why many people skip this genre. If romance authors want to be taken seriously, they need to step up their game. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Reading as a way of life.


Being an International Relations and Political Science student carries with it a lot of implications. One of the many is that the expansive amounts of readings that are involved in the whole process can lead to a burn out if you may, of words; of reading way too many sentences in a short period of time so that another sentence may cause wooziness or extreme nausea. I often undergo such sentiments. 

 To add a cherry on top, my favorite recreational passion also involves reading, loads and loads of sentences. For me reading is not just a hobby, or a passion, it is a way of life. So when the overwhelming amount of college reading and my way of life collided, threatening my love for the written word to be swallowed into oblivion, I came up with some solutions. And here I am, sharing with those who may want to listen. 

Come on close kids, let me spin you a tale!

Commitment
I know how people often say that if you are in a reading slump or do not feel like reading, do not.   While that is a sound advice as any, I have found that not working for me. Often, when I distance myself from books for too long a time, I just seem to go deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole that I find kind of stinky. That is when I decided to roll against the tide and power through. John Irving said in ‘A prayer for Owen Meany,’ ‘If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.’ Over the past few months this quote became my mantra. Just because things had gotten a little tough I was not going to abandon my passion. So, every day I would aim a certain amount of pages to be read. I started from 10 pages and went to a 100, even 200 if the book I was reading had me extra excited. Things eventually turned into a habit, and now everyday if I don’t at least read 20 pages in any format of a book, I feel a little sad. I find that reading in the wee moments of the day doesn’t help me either. It actually makes me anxious about what I am supposed to be doing and takes out pretty much all the fun. 

Mix up the formats
A second technique that works for me is mixing up the formats. If my school readings are in a physical format, I often find myself reaching for my kindle or my audiobook, and vice versa. 

Use social media to your advantage
Recently I have started following some wonderful bookstagram accounts. This not only gives me great ideas for my next reads, but also constantly inspires me to be creative with my books. Another best thing I always have people to talk to about that book after I finish.
I also use Goodreads meticulously. Over the years I have sifted through the many wonderful reviewers on Goodreads to find those that have similar taste in books as me. Often I find encouraged by such little things that they do, either the number they read, or the speed which they read with. One of my goodreads friends actually reads a lot of books on audio, and that got me excited about audiobooks so much, I finish 3 audiobooks with the span of one month. 

Surround yourself with bookish people 
I love making friends, but in particular I love making bookish friends. I gave up on my dream to be a part of a book club long ago (I can never seem to get interested in the books that are picked for me), and so my bookish friends are those people who fill the gap. I can talk to them about books as much as I want without feeling the need to read what they are reading. Recently I have converted my husband into one of my bookish friends as well. I hound him for details of what he is reading to an extent where now he looks forward to writing reviews himself. 

Associate reading with school
If all fails, what I have tried recently is finding reading material relevant to what I am studying in School. For example, I was recently learning about the history of Cold War and its impact on the future years, when I stumbled upon the novel, Girl at War, which is essentially about the Yugoslavian Civil War. The relating of events I had studied and the ones being mentioned made it so much fun, not only did I look forward to reading the book but also to studying!

So what are some of the things you do when life gets you down and you find no time to pursue your hobby or passion?