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.

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.

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.

 

The voice in which she read to me…

maTomorrow is ‘Mother’s Day’ in some parts of the world and so, at 7:00 am I’ll get on the phone, dial the only number I know by heart and wait for her familiar voice to greet me. I can gauge mum’s mood instantly, it is instinctual. Some day’s she’s excited to tell me the latest family gossip, on others, her tone is reflective and poignant. I can tell what my mother is thinking, before she has gotten through two lines of conversation.

My mother does so many voices!

Mum has a morning voice, a voice to call out my dog’s name, a voice for my dad, a shy voice, a ‘dinner’s ready and I am waiting’ voice that can get my brother and I out and about in under 30 seconds, an ‘I said so’ voice she rarely uses, a voice reserved for family and a voice that says she means business. My mother is voice-over artist waiting to be discovered.

But of all the voices my mother does, one of my favorites will always be the voice in which she read to me.

By the time I was four or five I was dreaming of pirates and forest sagas. By middle school, I was listening intently to her voice, guiding me as I climbed the ladder at a local books store to retrieve my weekend stash of Perry Mason novels. Sometimes she read me fiction, most times she read from her Bible. Planting permanent truths in my mind and in my heart.

I’m grateful for this childhood experience for many reasons. Having mum read to me meant that I could greet a large number of the stories and ideas that I encountered throughout my schooling as old friends. I had a frame of reference for things which would otherwise have been incomprehensible. It means that today, I get an additional layer of nostalgia when I see an Earl Stanley Gardner paperback sitting on the corner of a library shelf.

Because of mum, I have chunks of The Psalms and Paulo Coelho in quotable memory. The voice in which she read to me still reminds me of the power of words and the manner in which they can impact people’s lives.

Today, I thank my mother not just for giving me life, but giving me the ability to live several lives, and for introducing me to a shining multitude of worlds to experience them in. It is because of you, Ma, that I look at life a little closer, go deeper, travel further, and ask what if I try….? You’ll never know the full extent of what that means for me, or perhaps you do already?

Happy Mother’s Day Ma. ‘Love you heartful’

”All readers are aspiring writers in a way…”

I have just finished my second reading of ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami. I first read it a year and a half ago after I had acquired it on Aamzon while searching for Paulo Coelho’s ‘Manuscripts Found in Accara’.  The choice seemed random, yet something told me to purchase it instead. ‘Norwegian Wood’ was an immersive experience. Nothing can prepare you for the way a Murakami plot (or lack of) can grab you and pull you in.

My first reading of Norwegian Wood was not as great as my second. At first I think I perceived it to be just pointless surrealism. As a result, I was always uncomfortable afterwards because I continue to profess Murakami as one of my favorite contemporary authors, yet, I greatly disliked one of his most celebrated works. However, the second time around was better. This time I could see more beauty in Murakami’s prose. There were moments when I read sections that gave me that same uneasy feeling that I had encountered before but I was able to find more to love in the novel than previously.

I’ve rambled on in prior posts about why I love reading Murakami’a works and I am certainly not in a mood to attempt a post-reading analysis on this one. What I did come away with (despite a sense of utter helplessness for Toru ) is a sense of awe for Murakami.

The man is a master wordsmith, weaving words into thoughts that can reach your sub-conscious mind without any effort at all. Despite the loose ends that mark Murakami’s works, the stories shine like stars because those cut strings add to the fantasy of it all. Using exceptional descriptions and dialogue, Murakami conveys the deepest, darkest—often hidden—sides of human nature. Many of his characters experience a type of universal, human despair that forces them to question reality. His stories are profound and bizarre at the same time leaving readers with a feeling that is, well – indescribable.

But here’s the thing, when Haruki sat down to write ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, he didn’t have a plan. When Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, she didn’t know what was going to happen or how it would end. Perhaps, when I sit down to write my story…

inzDon’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing myself with these literary greats, not in terms of talent. But it does give me comfort and succor to know that I’m not the only person who starts simply with an idea, an image, a sentence, and that’s it.

Someone told me this morning that at our core, every passionate reader is an aspiring writer too. That’s certainly true of me and my hope is that in the process of writing and re-writing, I’ll discover a story along the way as well.

Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence

I’ve only managed to read a measly eight books this year. Just eight. That’s three less than the 11 books I read in 2014. One of the reasons for the slump in my reading statistics is the time I devoted to each of these books. Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Museum of Innocence’ has taken me the longest – a little over seven weeks to get through 728 pages. The large capital letters of his name have been by my bedside as a constant reminder that I have long neglected the bourgeoisie memoir.

The truth is; the novel didn’t suck me in the way I thought it would. The maestro’s 700 page story of a man’s obsessive love for a younger woman wasn’t exactly riveting. The first half of the story is a classic tale of reckless passion colliding with bourgeois standards. The latter is far more interesting and as the political upheaval begins to rock Istanbul, the book and the protagonist both undergo radicalization and change, as the neurotic kleptomaniac makes his way through the stations of his doomed love affair.

PAMThe love saga of Kemal and Fusan gradually becomes grandiose and unrealistic and makes the narrative a slightly difficult read. I literally forced myself to finish the book but only because I was reading Pamuk and I refused to give up on him.

For me the hero of the book is not the compulsive lover caught between his fiancé and his mistress. The true star of the book is Istanbul and Pamuk masterfully captures the essence and intricacies of the beautiful city as he chronicles the oddly timed love-affair. The novel masterfully captures a panoramic view of life in Istanbul and the identity crisis experienced by its upper classes who find themselves caught between all things traditionally Turkish and on the other hand the westernized way of life they were just getting used to. Istanbul is almost like a character in itself – it mirrors the characters’ own conflict as a city torn and ravaged by political upheaval. The vistas Pamuk paints are like monochrome reminders of conflicted people in complicated situations.

Reading the lavish descritpions of the city, I found myself closing my eyes to re- imagine the biting cold of January 2011 as I stepped out of the Atatürk Airport into the chilled winter air. Minutes later my minivan speeding through the serpentine roads and finally onto the magnificent Bosphorus bridge as the bejeweled skyline came into view alongside. Pamuk’s descriptions of the romantic city are exquisite and a delightful sensory journey not to be read but rather – experienced. I hope to go back to Istanbul some day and I’ve promised myself to read his novel with the same title when I’m there.

Coming back to the novel, it can be read and interpreted in multiple ways. It’s a love story, a political chronicle and a social commentary all rolled into one. At the end of it all, though Kemal does somewhat resemble the emotionally fraught Miss Havisham s the objects Kemal collects and adds to his ‘museum’ seem to pile up in his attempt to compulsively ‘freeze time’ – something that is not all that strange for the average person. There is something to be said for memorabilia, we value little things because they represent a connection with something important in our past. Many of us keep all kinds of memorabilia around and while I don’t believe those things intrinsically represent a threat to your present, they are part and parcel of who you are and what you have experienced.

A few months ago I blogged about my own ‘Cardboard box’ full of keepsakes and mementos that are vital scraps of my life. So much of who I am and what made me this way is confined therein. Kemal found love a little too late – he was an ordinary man placed in some extraordinary circumstances and his museum became his sanctuary. You and I may not obsess over memorabilia the way Kemal does in the novel but we sure do know what it represents and how much we value those memories when the real thing is long gone. Perhaps a book about objects of desire, so to speak, will make more sense to a reader who has had the pleasure (or displeasure) of being in love. Read it, you’ll understand why.

In conclusion, Pamuk’s novel is (if nothing else) a saga to the value of our memories and the place they hold in our lives. Having said that, there is one last thought I cannot shake  – the funny thing about memories is that they only last as long as you remember them, don’t you think?