Book Review – “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator” by Edwin Lefevre

Title: Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

Author: Edwin Lefevre

Published: 1923

Number of Pages: 308

Price: Kindle – Rs. 60, Paperback – Rs. 890 (Amazon.in)

My rating: 3/5

This disguised biography of Jesse Livermore has been highly recommended by stock market pundits over the years. One can see why, given the fact that the observations about human nature and stock trading ring true almost a century after the book was written and first published.

What however might make this a cumbersome read is the fact that most of the practices and anecdotes mentioned here are no longer relevant today. Institutions have been replaced and there are strict rules against “manipulating” stocks.

The book does give you a glimpse into the kind of courage and daring required to make big bets in the stock market. Apart from that, for the general learning, I recommend reading through the quotes from the book on Goodreads.

Read more about ‘Reminiscences of a Stock Operator’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Book Review – “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama

Title: The Audacity of Hope

Author: Barack Obama

Published: 2008

Number of Pages: 375

Price: Rs. 325 (Amazon.in)

My rating: 4/5

When Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States of America, he kindled hope not only in America but across the world. This book outlines the basis of that hope.

Obama argues that in spite of their differences, Americans want the same basic things: jobs, good education for their children and a safe, free environment. And then there are the challenges created by the ideological differences between the two major political parties, the manner in which laws are created and how the legislature works. Not to mention the social and economic challenges brought on by globalization. In ‘The Audacity of Hope’, Obama confesses to not knowing all the answers but does outline a road-map that he says can take everyone ahead.

What I particularly liked about this book are the lucidly explained ideas. Even as someone has never followed American politics in great detail, I was able to grasp most of what was being explained about the legislature. This isn’t a book heavy with details and complexities of how the legislature works but gives us a peek into the lives of U.S. Senators and how they try to align their personal, political and national interests.

I would also say that this is not necessarily an ‘American’ book. The challenges that Obama lists and the common aspirations of the people are a universal story and as applicable to us here in India as to the citizens of America.

Read more about ‘The Audacity of Hope’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Book Review – “The Speed Reading Book” by Tony Buzan

Title: The Speed Reading Book

Author: Tony Buzan

Published: 2000

Number of Pages: 217

Price: Rs. 726 (Amazon.in)

My rating: 4/5

Tony Buzan lists out various techniques to speed read books, newspapers and magazines. Given that the book was written in 2000, there’s not much on how to speed read on mobile or computer screens.

Still, the book is helpful in order to get started on the speed reading journey. What I think is more important is to persist through all the techniques mentioned, which require regular practice and persistence. Scanning and skimming books and articles also might help to skip through portions which don’t necessarily help in building one’s knowledge base.

Overall verdict: definitely give this a read. I think of this book as a “building block” to reading other books and the benefits will start accumulating over a period of time.

Read more about ‘The Speed Reading Book’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Book Review – “The Complete Guide to Memory Mastery” by Harry Lorayne

Book: The Complete Guide to Memory Mastery

Author: Harry Lorayne

Published: 2008

Number of Pages: 302

Price: Rs. 219 (Amazon.in)

My rating: 3/5

I have been wanting to read this book ever since I was in college. So to be able to finally persist and finish this book almost a decade later is a matter of no mean happiness.

Almost everyone I know wishes to have a better memory. More often than not, they tend to fumble over small things: little daily errands, remembering birthday and anniversaries, etc

What Harry Lorayne does in this book is give us little techniques that can aid us to remember things which we did not think were possible. For instance, the greatest help was linking numbers to words and remembering a mental image. It sounds complicated but is much simpler once you read it.

The book also describes various party tricks and also tricks to remember all the 52 cards in a pack; at one point, I do feel there is an overkill with the number of techniques he suggests. But I understand what he’s trying to do: give us a variety of options and let the reader choose whichever one works best for her.

The second half of the book, “The Secrets of Mind Power” feels more like a self-help book and I personally wasn’t interested in it at all. Still, I feel the first half of the book more than warrants the money one spends on it.

Read more about ‘The Complete Guide to Memory Mastery’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

TSBC Top 10 of 2015

TSBC Top 10 Of 2015

As a part of the activity that The Sunday Book Club (TSBC) ran on Twitter (their Twitter handle is @tsbookclub), I put up a list of the top 10 books that I read in 2015. This is a random list and isn’t a ranking; simply those 10 books that brought me the most joy in the year gone past.

You can read my reviews of some of these books here:

My Salinger Year – Joanna Rakoff

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – Oscar Wilde

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

Arjun: Without a Doubt – Dr. Sweety Shinde

One Part Woman – Perumal Murugan

Book Review – “My Salinger Year” by Joanna Rakoff

My Salinger Year - Joanna Rakoff

Book: My Salinger Year

Author: Joanna Rakoff

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Year: 2008

Number of pages: 252

Price: Rs. 247 (Paperback on Amazon) and Rs. 125.30 (Kindle) on Amazon.in / Rs. 221 on Flipkart.

My rating: 5/5

This book was recommended to me and a friend (the same one who very sweetly sent me a copy of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman) by another very dear friend. The latter had highly praised this book, and I was even more intrigued when the former finished reading the book in one sitting and couldn’t stop praising it.

And no wonder. This is easily one of the more lucidly written books that I’ve read this year.

The book journals a year in the author’s life when, in 1996, she takes up an assistant’s job in a New York literary agency which, as she later realises, represents J. D. Salinger. As the year progresses, she gets to know her colleagues better, answers Salinger’s fan mail, helps her manager who is going through a tough time personally, has second thoughts about her current boyfriend and gets involved in a book that Salinger wants to publish.

The time-period and the setting of the book gave me a very post-Mad Men era feel. This is helped not only by the fact that it is set in New York in the late nineties but also by the somewhat puzzling insistence of the agency to not embrace technology: it’s 1996 and yet, they use faxes and Dictaphones instead of computers and e-mail.

Right from the very beginning, there are beautiful descriptions of the city of New York. Be it the fairy tale like day when deserted streets greet our heroine as she determinedly goes to her first day at work, in spite of the entire city being snowed in, or when she occasionally treats herself to walks inside the landmark Waldorf hotel where she breathes in the opulence; this is a very keen observer who is able to transport the reader to a different place and time.

There are also geeky insights into the world of publishing. For instance, how books usually have their names written vertically down the length of their spine. You know, how you need to tilt your head to the right to be able to read the name of the book and the author when books are arranged on a shelf? Yeah. Salinger hated that. He insisted that all his books have their names written horizontally. Which created a curious problem if the book, as is the case of the one which is under discussion to be published, is not voluminous enough to accommodate the length of the title and the author. What does one do? Do you widen the margins? Increase the fonts? (It was while reading this that I realised that I had always sub-consciously preferred book titles to be printed horizontally on the spines.)

And then, there are the Salinger mails. From young and the old, from the frustrated to the angry; they all write in to Salinger. The recluse that he is, he has specifically requested none of it to reach him. And it falls upon the author to write a standard letter back to each mail which comes. But going through the contents of the letter, she can’t help but be moved to write a little personal note to these people who are trying to get through to a great author. The letters and her responses take a life of their own and, I suspect, makes the author see things in a different light by the end of the year.

This is a beautifully written book which completely moved me. Like the author, I too haven’t read any books by J. D. Salinger (she does read his works by the end of the book, though) and this perhaps made me connect with her in a strange way. Her struggles of trying to survive in expensive NYC felt like a reality check on the beauty that she described in other pages. The voice of a young woman, living a tough life in New York City and yet having access to the great American literary scene in the late 90s. Perfect weekend read.

Lingering thoughts:

  • “Oh. That Jerry!”
  • “He was also just afraid. Afraid the way most people become when they get what they’ve long wanted.”
  • Next time I’m in a spot of bother, I too am going to stand in a doorway like Joanna’s boss and shout “HUGH!!”
  • “You can’t go about revealing your goddamn emotions to the world.”

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘My Salinger Year’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Amazon.in or on Flipkart.

The Top Ten Authors I’ve Read Most Books From

Taking a leaf out of Book Oblivion’s post, I too thought it would be fun to check which author I have read the most books from.

Like I mentioned in the comments section of Book Oblivion’s post, I had a feeling Wodehouse and Agatha Christie would easily top my list.

The results corroborated my gut feeling, but were also somewhat of a blast from the past.

Most Authors Read

Here is my take on the authors who feature in my top-10 list:

1. P. G. Wodehouse – This was a no-brainer. I love Wodehouse. The language, the poetry-like-flow of words, the outlandish plots, the humour: all of this makes the perfect pick-me-up book, and the only surprise here is that I’ve read only 23 of his books.

2. Sidney Sheldon – This one was a pleasant surprise. I still vividly remember picking up my first Sidney Sheldon novel, ‘The Naked Face’, from my school library, which incidentally, was also Sheldon’s first novel. This was my introduction to the world of bestsellers and contemporary fiction. Till then, I’d only been reading a lot of Noddy, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Three Musketeers and of course, Enid Blyton’s books. After ‘The Naked Face’, my reading habit completely changed.

3. Agatha Christie – What can I say about the Dame that hasn’t already been said before? I love the plots and I love the quirks. Be it Poirot, Miss Marple or any of the short stories that Christie wrote early in her career; I gobbled all of them with glee. I still feel ‘And Then There Were None’ is the BEST crime novel I will ever read, though I still have ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ on my to-read list. Nope, don’t try it. I already know who the killer is.

4. Jeffrey Archer – After I was through with my Sidney Sheldon phase, I started looking elsewhere for similar thrills in contemporary fiction. I found my answer in Jeffrey Archer, especially when I read ‘Kane & Abel’. I recently read the book again and was delighted to find that I still enjoyed it as much as I had when I was in high school.

5. John Grisham – Right alongside the Archer books, I was reading one courtroom thriller after another by John Grisham. I think the one that really got me hooked to his writing was ‘The Firm’ (I haven’t seen the film starring Tom Cruise), but I loved almost all of his novels. One which really stands out in my memory is ‘The Chamber’, which some of my friends didn’t like, but I absolutely loved. Incidentally, the first book that I read by Grisham was ‘A Time To Kill’, also his first novel.

6. J. K. Rowling – Seven books. Seven gems. Although I loved the initial Harry Potter books more because they were such light reading and weren’t filled with too much drama and menace and philosophical ideas about love and life and death, I still marvel at how brilliantly she brought so many plots together over the last couple of books. Absolutely stunning!

7. Ashok Banker – I remember stumbling across the novel ‘Prince of Ayodhya’, the first in Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series, at the library in my MBA college. I was thunderstruck by the twist that Banker had given a tale that I’d long thought as fuddy-duddy, echoes from the time that I saw the Ramanand Sagar TV series as a child. Tip: Definitely read the preface to the books, which has a brilliant argument why every Ramayana tale that you will ever hear is unique.

8. Alistair MacLean – By the time I discovered Goodreads, I couldn’t recall all the books by MacLean that I’d read. If I did, he (and Frederick Forsyth) would definitely feature much higher on this list. These were the perfect thrillers concerning war and espionage that I could’ve read while growing up as a boy. Please, please read ‘The Guns Of Navarone’ to find out what I’m saying.

9 & 10. Jeph Loeb & Ed Brubaker – The reason I’m considering these two together is because the wizardry of the author and the artist have combined to give some of the finest Batman graphic novels that I’ve read. Read Batman: Hush, The Dark Victory, The Long Halloween and The Man Who Laughs.

11. Haruki Murakami – Ever since I read ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, I’ve been in love with Murakami’s works. Agreed, he has sometimes gone overboard (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman), but I would still any day settle down to read any of his eccentric works.

12. Ian Fleming – I read ‘Goldfinger’ as a schoolboy and then explored the world of James Bond a bit as I grew up. But I still have a box-set of James Bond novels that I’m determined to read some day and relish the stories of this dashing spy.

13. Michael Crichton – Right about the time I was reading those courtroom thrillers by John Grisham, I’d also started reading some sci-fi by Michael Crichton. I loved ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Lost World’ and was chilled to the bone by ‘Congo’.

14. Oscar Wilde – The last, and by no means the least, on this list is Oscar Wilde. I have only recently started reading his books and love his works. I have a feeling I’ll be reading a lot, lot more of his stories in the near future. Love his irreverence.

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If you are on Goodreads, and want to check your list of most read authors, just go to your Read page and scroll down to the ‘most read authors’ link on the left column.

So, what are the authors that you’ve read the most books by?

Book Review – “The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories” edited by Ruskin Bond

Book: The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories

Edited by: Ruskin Bond

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication Year: 1994

Number of pages: 184

Price: Rs. 200 (Amazon.in) / Rs. 175 (Flipkart) / Rs. 166.25 (Kindle)

My rating: 3/5

I picked this book up at the bookstore near my house in Calcutta, a couple of days before I left for the Cherra Marathon. I read a few of these stories in Shillong, a couple of them on my way back on the flight (I see the irony here), and then finished the book back here in Calcutta.

And once again, the reason why it took me so long to finish this book is because, like it happened with Murakami’s “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman“,  the stories, at least in the first half of the book, didn’t impress me much.

The book is split into two halves: stories from before and after India’s independence. And although I’d expected the stories in the first half to fascinate me more, this is where disappointment lay. In place of stories which I expected to make me travel back in time, to a place where railway stations were little hubs of activity and filled with interesting stories, I was peddled with stories with weak plots which rather felt like I was sipping tepid and tasteless chai at a railway station.

The only story worth mentioning from the first half is the excerpt from Jules Verne’s Around the World In Eighty Days. The story is able to capture some of the romance of early railroad travel made especially challenging in Indian conditions. In it is a description of the opulent city of Bombay, forests to be crossed and unexpected interruptions as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout make their way across the Indian sub-continent.

The rest of the stories in the first half, even though a couple of them are by Kipling, can be skipped over. They did little to catch my attention and much to test my patience.

What impressed me really, was the second half of the book. With stories from writers such as Khushwant Singh, Satyajit Ray and Ruskin Bond himself, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. And I wasn’t.

The following is a brief review of each of the stories that appear in the Stories After Independence section:

Loyalty by Jim Corbett – One of the two disappointments in this second half, Loyalty is an autobiographical narration by Corbett about his challenges from the time when he was employed in the Indian Railways. The only aspect of this story that caught my eye was how much responsibility a twenty-one year old was entrusted with back then. My rating: 2/5

Mano Majra Station by Khushwant Singh – An extract from Singh’s Train To Pakistan. The tale, which begins amusingly, is a story set in the Punjab during the time of Partition. It captures the character of a village caught up in forces beyond its reckoning, as the story comes to a chilling end. My rating: 4/5

The Woman on Platform 8 by Ruskin Bond – A vintage Ruskin Bond story. A schoolboy, travelling alone, is waiting at a station for his train. A woman befriends him and offers him a meal. But are things really what they seem or is she a crook? My rating: 4/5

The Intimate Demon by Manoj Das – A beautifully worded little story about a father and daughter’s railway journey. My rating: 4/5

A Stranded Railroad Car by Intizar Husain – A group of men in a village gather round for their evening hookah and narrate tales of this new fangled beast called the railroad car. My rating: 3/5

Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment by Satyajit Ray – The master story-teller that he is, Ray whips up the suspense pretty early in the story and the surprise ending will certainly make you smile. My rating: 4/5

Balbir Arora goes Metric by Bill Aitken – The second and final weak story in the second half. Too long-winded. Might be of some interest to a railway geek. My rating: 3/5

Railway Reverie by R. K. Laxman – An extract from Laxman’s book The Messenger. An ill-chosen extract perhaps, because it was surprisingly short and had a very abrupt ending. My rating: 3/5

The Cherry Choo-Choo by Victor Banerjee – A heartwarming little tale which made me laugh at a number of places. My rating: 4/5

99 UP by Manojit Mitra – “This is the kind of story about railways that I wanted to read,” I told myself when I finished 99 UP. The story captures how a little town on the outskirts of Calcutta gets caught up in a frenzy when a movie star is expected to drop by for a film’s release. The story describes the various people of the village and how the visit captures each one’s imagination. My rating: 5/5

Lingering thoughts:

  • It is a sad sign of the times that in a book of Indian railway stories, I kept reading POW, which was supposed to stand for Palace on Wheels, as Prisoners of War. Sigh.
  • “The blue-eyed, brown-haired and pale-skinned Anglo-Indian engine driver who had rolled the ‘Choo-Choo’ into town, was whisked away by hordes of admirers, laced with rice wine that had fermented for weeks in diurnal anticipation of the arrival of the train and, in the morning, was discovered dead in the local brothel where, introduced as an Apollo from Calcutta, he succumbed to an endless striving to uphold his standard.”
  • “‘An old buddy?’ ‘No,’ murmured Bridges with a slight smile, ‘Half-devil and half-child, but by the living God that made him, he was a better man than I. A funny story; a wonderful memory.'”
  • Two books added to my to-read list from here: Around The World In Eighty days by Jules Verne and 20 Stories by Satyajit Ray.
  • Must read more stuff by Manojit Mitra.
  • I think I’m done with short stories for now. Need to read a novel which will sustain my interest over a longer period of time.

Image courtesy: www.flipkart.com

Read more about ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Amazon.inFlipkart or for your Kindle.

Book Review – “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” by Haruki Murakami

Book: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Vintage Books

Publication Year: 2006

Number of pages: 436

Price: Rs. 303 (Amazon.in) / Rs. 339 (Flipkart) / Rs. 275 (Kindle)

My rating: 3/5

Looking back, I realised I was gifted this book way back in December last year. It has taken me about 7 months to finish reading it.

Why did it take me so long, you ask?

Well, this book was gifted to me by a very good friend. And I have always liked the writings of Haruki Murakami. These two reasons were good enough for me to soldier on and continue reading beyond the point where I usually would’ve given up.

And I was justly rewarded for my efforts. Some of the stories towards the end of the book are vintage Murakami: slightly weird, lots of fun and handsome amount of soul searching.

The first story in the book which made me feel this way was “Firefly”. I had almost told myself “I’m not going to read any more of this book if this story isn’t worth it.” And then, Murakami gave a glimpse of the kind of stories he can tell. At the end of this one, for example, you feel as if you’ve stopped at the finish line but the answer still lies somewhere in the distance: you’ve reached your destination but can only see the solution from afar.

He follows this up with, in my humble opinion, the best story in the book: The Chance Traveller. The serendipitous meeting between a gay piano tuner and an unhappy wife, along with the two curious incidents from the author’s own life, make for a beautiful story of love and connecting with the strange ways of the Universe.

It would be unfair to say that the next story, Hanalei Bay, is any less beautiful. It narrates the grief of a single mother who has lost her only son and what happens when she comes to the part of the world where he died.

The final two stories in the book, The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day and A Shinagawa Monkey, helped me to finish this book with a smile.

I wish I could say that for the rest of the stories. I was left bewildered by most of them and some of them seemed to end abruptly. Not that this isn’t what Murakami usually does. It felt like an artist had gone just that slight bit overboard and indulged himself in his fancies, leaving us who appreciate his art stranded on a different plane.

To summarise, I still love reading Haruki Murakami’s writings. He creates a world which is absurd and yet it brilliantly connects with the reader within me. Unfortunately, I think he overdid the randomness this time.

P.S. Nenette on Goodreads has done a story-by-story review and rating here. I think she has done a splendid job.

Lingering thoughts:

  • “There are only three ways to get along with a girl: one, shut up and listen to what she has to say; two, tell her you like what she’s wearing; and three, treat her to really good food. Easy, eh?”
  • “Your work should be an act of love, not a marriage of convenience.”
  • This chap Murakami has certainly had some weird sexual experiences. Look at all the ways in which he talks about it. Not judging him. Just an observation.

Update on 6 Aug 2015: I have stumbled upon the The Best Way to Read Haruki Murakami. Those who want to get started with Murakami or want to figure out their way through this man’s works must give this post by Book Oblivion/Jessica a look. Happy navigating!

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Amazon.in, Fipkart or for your Kindle.

Book Review – “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” by Oscar Wilde

Book: Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (Little Black Classics #59)

Author: Oscar Wilde

Publisher: Penguin Books

Publication Year: 2015

Number of Pages : 50

Price: Rs. 42 (Amazon) / Rs. 42 (Kindle)

My rating: 4/5

There is something about Oscar Wilde’s writing which always makes me pause and smile at the wonderfully crafted sentences. I’d felt this way when I’d read the only novel that he’s written, “The Picture Of Dorian Gray”, and again when I read the short story “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”.

What I’d expected to be a dark tale about one man’s psychological struggle to come to grips with a prediction that he was soon going to commit a murder turned out to be a witty tale; a tongue-in-cheek look at upper class London society with a fun, surprising end.

I read this book one evening in Shillong, and this was the perfect read to compliment the beautiful hill station and the wonderful quiet which is associated with unhurried evenings at such places.

I cannot wait to read more by Wilde. And if you haven’t read anything by him thus far, “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” is an excellent place to begin.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Amazon.in or for your Kindle.