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Goodreads – Social Networking for Bibliophiles

Do you ever keep track of your reading? Have you noticed your reading habits evolve over the years? Do you connect with other readers in real time? A few years ago I signed up to use Goodreads, but I hardly spent enough time updating my page or making the experience social, the way it is meant to be. This summer I invested some time in sprucing up my account and what a revelation it was!

If you have not yet heard of Goodreads…where have you been?

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All kidding aside, Goodreads is a social media platform for readers where you have the opportunity to rate, review, and find great book recommendations—and that is only the very basics of what Goodreads has to offer. Making reading social is so important and this one of the best platforms for readers to connect the books we love to the people who love them too! Here are some reasons I love using @Goodreads, and why I think other readers will love it too.

Goodreads gives everyone a voice. Every user has the opportunity to rate and/or review the books they read. It’s no longer critics and professional reviewers who give the final say on whether or not a book is worth reading, the people who are reading them get a say too! I prefer Goodreads ratings and reviews to platforms like Amazon because you know the reviews are coming from honest readers who love books—and if you’re really curious about a bad or excellent review, you can see the reviewers profile to get a sense of what their usual taste in books is.

Goodreads creates your own bookshelf. Have you ever remembered loving a book you read awhile back, but can’t for the life of you remember what it was called? Do you ever get a recommendation from someone about a book to read and forget all about it? On Goodreads, you can create bookshelves for books you want to read, and books you’ve already read, and they’re available for you to look back on anytime your memory takes a hit! Another really cool feature is that you can scan the barcode of a book with your phone, and it’ll automatically get added to your bookshelf. Impressive, no?

Goodreads encourages you to hit your reading goals. The platform encourages setting a yearly goal for how many books you want to read, and keeps track of your progress as you go. Was your New Year’s Resolution to read 100 books by the end of the year? Let Goodreads help. My target for the year was 25 books and @goodreads has helped me track the 16 I have read so far. It tells me I am 2 books ahed of schedule and that I can slow down, but I am blazing my way through the summer and making the most of my time off.

Goodreads allows you to interact with authors. If your favorite author is on Goodreads, go sign up for an account right now. You can keep track of what they’re reading, you can send them questions, and occasionally they’ll do Q&A sessions or giveaways that allow you to get to know them on a more personal level! Before the literary community was separated by readers and authors, but on Goodreads you’re all in one place, on one platform, together.

Do you have a Goodreads account? Make sure to add me as your friend and let me know in the comments below. You can find me here  My Goodreads Profile

 

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The 40 Rules of Love

I  always love to read about a book within a book and so ‘The 40 rules of Love’ by Elif Shafak with its parallel narratives  started off so promisingly. The contemporary story is about an unhappily married Jewish homemaker named Ella living in Northampton, USA.  The second narrative of this novel, ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ is actually about the wandering dervish Shams of Tabriz, who is a mystic Sufi and Jalaluddin Rumi, the now famous Sufi scholar.

The fact that the novel catapults the reader from past into the present and vice versa, from the world of Shams of Tabriz in 13th century Turkey to the world of Ella Rubenstein in 21st America, is deeply symbolic. The fluidity gives the novel a surreal timeless quality, where even the characters from the 13th century seem relatable today. This is where Shafak is brilliant, for this is an underlying message that Rumi and Tabriz’s message of love is not and cannot be limited to encapsulations of time and space.

Bear with my contrived analogy but if Shafaks’ works (the 3 that I have read) were compared to a box of Turkish Delights the delicious and beautifully crafted ‘Three Daughters of Eve’ would remain my favorite while ‘The 40 Rules…’ will have to come in third place after ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’. Unlike the historical storyline, Ella’s narrative is limited to one point of view—hers—and it’s a fairly dull place to be in repeatedly.  Ella’s story proved to be too predictable and her transformation almost expected, because Shafak rarely allows you to see her life from any other vantage point. When you compare it to the multiple voices you hear in in the Konya pages, you begin to see that as a disadvantage.

That being said, the novel is a mastery of words – whether thinly veiled symbols, masterful wordplay, clunky dialogue or fat clichés… the pages are a Bibliophiles delight and Shafak’s attempt to illustrate how and why Rumi continues to exert such a powerful hold over many readers even today is skillful and beautiful.

Now that I am done reading the novel, it’s just a matter of time before I pick up the complete works of the great Rumi and perhaps some more of Shafak herself who is undoubtedly my favorite author this summer.

Eight books down…I think I might just have enough time for one more.

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Ghachar Ghochar

I have just finished reading @VivekShanbhag0’s #GhacharGhochar in one sitting even though I wasn’t intending to. I was astounded by how it progressed and at first my only grouse was that some closure would have been good for the story. I hate open endings and the uncertainty of not knowing if I am in or out, I dislike hazy scenes but somehow this works well in #GhacharGhochar.

DGeGzgHU0AAZl2aIn a handful of deftly drawn strokes, Shanbhag constructs an amazing commentary on class, gender and urban life without ever getting too close to any of these topics. Also the pages discussing ants (regardless of any metaphorical intentions) are just perfect, and will ring true to anyone who has ever lived in India.

Brevity is the best part of Shanbhag’s storytelling and it left me with a familiar feeling of awe mixed with wonder, like I experienced after reading Mansfield’s ‘The Ox’ and ‘The Fly’ for the first time. The way they re both able to say poignant things in such a seemingly simple way is testament to their literary genius.

The splendour of this work doesn’t lie as much in the plot as it does in the narrative and the way in which the characters reveal themselves. The novella is a great look at contemporary life in Indian homes as people learn to walk the tightrope of tradition and modernity.

While this is Shanbhag’s first foray into English writing, I am quite certain it will not be his last.

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Three Daughters of Eve

image.jpg-largeSometimes a book comes along that speaks boldly to our times. As it chips away at the brick and mortar, the ideas contained in it overwhelms and perhaps unsettles, forcing readers to sit back and confront truths that plague modern society. ‘Three Daughters of Eve’, Elif Shafak’s novel, is that kind of book. My 5th read since the summer began and undoubtedly, my favorite.

It is scary how polarized humanity is in our time; where every faction boasts of the certainty of its own ideas and beliefs and religion continues to be at the center of all the raging debates be it cow vigilantism or equal rights. The novel, constructed in elegant and poignant prose makes complicated theological and political questions readable and relevant. It does not matter where you are or what the political climate of your nation, the ideas transcend boundaries of several kinds and they do so, unapologetically. The things the book has to say and the way it says them are extraordinary.

‘Three Daughters of Eve’ is an intense, discursive and absorbing novel about three middle-eastern women, each studying at Oxford, with dramatically contrasting views on faith and personal identity. A spiritually ambiguous female lead character guides us through parallel stories set in Istanbul and Oxford till at least the two come together seamlessly through her soul-searching and persistent questioning.

I will not give away the plot as I am hoping that some of you will pick this book off a shelf or download it onto your devices to read it when you can, but the central character ‘Peri’, is so well fleshed out and wonderfully presented, I could not help bonding with her from the first time our paths crossed. Peri defies the stereotype that Muslim characters are sometimes relegated to and her own quest for answers to questions around her conflicting ideas of faith and identity is the arterial idea of the novel.

 “God was a maze without map, a circle without a center; the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never seemed to fit together. If only she could solve this mystery, she could bring meaning to senselessness, reason to madness, order to chaos, and perhaps, too, she could learn to be happy.” 

Having spent time in both Istanbul and Oxford I welcomed the chance to immerse myself in their sturdy presence in the story. They are as much central characters in this novel as the people are and Shafak writes about them in beautifully vivid prose all the time her love for the complexities of her homeland strikingly evident.

By the time I got to the end, the novel had pushed me to consider so many ideas – life, love, friendship, faith, God, humanity, forgiveness and revenge but instead of closure and answers, it left me with more questions than I had when I began reading.

How well do we know ourselves?

How perfect do we think we are?

How would I respond in a moral crisis like the one Peri is faced with?

How exact is our self image?

How hard is it to say sorry?

I’m certainly going to raid Shafak’s back catalogue after this fantastic introduction to her beautiful writing. If you happen to read the novel I would love to her your views.

Ever since I turned the last page, I have been experiencing that familiar sensation you get after reading a fantastic book. That intuitive feeling that something within you has moved, been affected, changed perhaps? How wonderful is the power of 366 pages of parchment paper and some spectrum ink.

 

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No Words

Somewhere across the miles, a funeral pyre is burning. Within the altar of logs, sticks and sandalwood kindling lies the mortal remains of a senior colleague. A few weeks ago, we wished each other ‘happy holidays’, little did we know…

I am conscious that as the clock advances the day towards what is yet to be, a family stands beside their loved one – father, husband, grand-dad, friend – watching a part of their lives end as it drifts into and mixes with the ether. In a few hours, all that will remain are ashes, the dust from which we are all fashioned and ancient rituals will send-off a beloved teacher to his eternal hermitage in the clouds.

Nothing helps one understand and appreciate the fleeting beauty of life, more than death does. The moments you spend with people, the conversations you have, the laughter you share – all of them gifts that death teaches us to grab onto and hold dear. As I sit here thinking of the animated Mr. Gupta this morning, words evade me, only memories remain.

RIP Sanjay Sir, you will live on in our memories.

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Coldplay by the Lake

Lucerne , Switzerland 
Behind Kapelle St. Peter in a little cobble stone courtyard by the fountain of Fritschi, stands an enthusiastic young busker. With his guitar he plays the riff notes of popular tunes. The words he sings echoes in the neighboring alleys and soon, people come in waves, drawn-in by his effortless, full-throated crooning. 

The young man takes his time, he’s clearly enjoying all the attention. Swiftly and expertly he gauges the crowd. They’re young. Without a moment’s hesitation he begins to belt out lyrics from a well known Coldplay anthem. Instantly, bystanders are transformed into willing participants in his impromptu concert. They sing along gleefully as they keep time to the infectious rhythm. 
Gradually the music fades and the feet tapping comes to an end. The musical moment they all just shared is now a travel memory. People move forward and instinctively reach into their bags and pockets, filling his guitar cease with Euros, loose change and billet-doux scribbled on the backs of paper napkins.

Scant conversation ensues. Staccato phrases, well done, amazing, a nod of appreciation, endless thank yous. Then, the multicultural crowd disappears as quickly as it had assembled. 

When you travel, language can be such a barrier sometimes but it is so wonderful the way in which music connects us all.
busk1

bʌsk/

verb

gerund or present participle: busking

1.

play music in the street or other public place for voluntary donations.

“the group began by busking on London sidewalks”

2.

informal

improvise.

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Home is a Feeling 

1st July, 201

Somewhere in France, heading through Germany towards Switzerland

Travel allows for sitting meditation. The mind luxuriates in the kind of tranquility that only an open road can bring. The soul too finds its opportunity to breathe. It inhales deeply and exhales slowly, as it releases months, sometimes years of bottled feelings. Some are simple emotions, others complex, with jagged edges.

As the countryside swooshes by in swirls of green, the mind relaxes. There are no thoughts today, no worries, no plans, no tasks to be completed, no words to be spoken, nothing. Clear. Like the highway itself. There’s only a sense of profound appreciation for the moment.

It’s a funny paradox, every minute advances you further towards journey’s end and yet, the feeling is that of calm and stillness. Almost like an out of body experience, the real you floats above in the ether watching the physical you make your way from point to point on a map, stopping intermittently for little bursts of reality before you retreat again.

I wonder why we need a periodic escape to feel alive like this. Why does it take a visa to a strange city or verdant wilderness to rediscover sides of you that you don’t see enough. Why does one feel more at home exploring these places, than when at home itself? The company of friends though valuable sometimes pales in comparison to the company of strangers. There are no expectations here, no masks, just you and them enjoying the intimacy of a fleeting moment shared. It’s kind of incredible how potent an encounter can be. Words spoken, experiences shared, all of them live on with you. Like keepsakes they remind you of something special, you feel alive again, you imagine that moment over and sometimes you break into smile. When you least expect it, the sounds of a familiar tune or the mention of a city will brighten up your day.

Everything you experience becomes a part of who you are. Like a patchwork quilt you begin to add bits and pieces till you’re left with a fabric of mismatched colors. There’s no uniform patter in the stitches, it looks ragged and lacking the finesse that comes from the hands of an expert. But the stitches are special to you, each one carefully done, holding together the myriad memories. There is love in the details, nuances that  catch only your eye.

You think your patchwork is a thing of beauty, so you display it proudly like a fine tapestry. While everyone else examines, speculates and conjectures, you listen, amused. You chuckle sometimes, you smile even when a random comment touches a nerve. You know what the quilt represents. Only you know.

Travel experiences are beautiful, spiritual even, they entertain, nourish and heal. Plans are great, but sometimes not knowing can be exhilarating too. You miss the ones you love but you carry them with you wherever you go. Home, afterall is no longer a physical space. Home is a feeling. When you travel you leave parts of you in all the places you go but you carry with you so much more than you realize. All of it becomes part of who you are, it stays with you and suddenly everywhere begins to feel like home.

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