Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Change

Looking back on the past 6 years, from the moment I joined college to the point where I sit on a gadda in a cluttered, semi-dark room with Arvind Kejriwal's voice blaring from a room next to mine, having eaten some over-buttered pav bhaaji and wondering if I'll relieve myself of the stress consuming my senses, I realize one simple, depressing fact.

I have changed.

Update: The last post in this series

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Must Reads - 2013

I have a draft on a look-back at 2013 and how it went but it's still incomplete and very depressing. To brighten things up, I publish a list of my favourite books from last year. The list is a short one and consists of new releases and some old classics which I could read again. Of course, a comprehensive list of all the books I read would be a far more demanding exercise but I don't reckon you'll read past item number 25.

The selection process has no rigorous reasoning behind it so don't try to find one:

1. Manon Lescaut



The Story of Manon Lescaut was a book that instantly elicited gasps of horror from the highly polished French elite. It falls, therefore, in the same esteemed bracket as Lady Chatterley's Lover or Madame Bovary in that the book was banned months after being released.

It's about this promising young lad who's got a successful life ahead of him and who's much respected and admired in society and tipped for the big time...but he falls in love with Manon Lescaut. And therein lies the tragedy of his feverish attachment for a girl who cannot reciprocate the same fidelity as her lover. The book's only about 100 pages long so I'd definitely recommend a read online. And that is also why I desist from giving out the plot - it's too short anyway. 

One of the reasons why avid readers devour the classics is to experience that belittling realization - that for all the technological progress in getting to the moon and making energy from chunks of glow-in-the-dark rocks we haven't changed much when it comes to our emotions and actions. Manon Lescaut was published by Abbe Provost in the 1700's but readers will find too many parallels with contemporary novels and more importantly, with actual life.

Read the book and shake your head at the frailty of human determination in the face of baser instincts. Some things will never really change.

2. Waking the Giant


Topping my list of non-fiction books is Bill McGuire's very intriguing work on the effect of climate change on increasing the likelihood of earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters. That's right, Waking the Giant is a review of the research done by scientists to discover possible links between, say, rising sea level and an increase in tsunamis. It turns out there is a constantly expanding body of literature on the subject. One of the difficulties of geology is that you can't really know exactly how the earth will behave to external forcings and it's even more difficult to judge exactly when the effects would start surfacing. McGuire does a neat job of picking analogous circumstances from the planet's geological history and builds a thought-provoking case for a consideration of the earth's sensitivities to the eventual outcomes of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's very readable and a good way of brushing up your basics on the geological periods.

3. Civilization and its Discontents


Statutory warning: Reading Freud might be injurious to your mental acuity. If you feel you're hanging over the abyss already and would rather not want to tip over, don't read this book. You'll never come back out. 

I debated over the choice of Civilization and Its Discontents on my list because it's dangerous stuff - the best time to read it is actually when you're very happy in life. There is a chance, then, that you might escape its endless mind-warping implications. I ended up including the book because I am generally surprised at the condescension most people show to Freud without ever having read a lot more than the Oedipus (or Electra) complex.

First things first. Freud was a genius. I've chosen this book because it is again a little less than 100 pages long but you only need to read it to realize how meticulous and careful Freud was in building his case. He is persuasive and uncomfortably correct when it comes to how we think of the world. He only proceeds to take those axioms to their logical conclusions. It gets difficult because you have to spend a lot of time understanding the underlying assumptions behind the ideas and then it might only end up convincing you even more.

Briefly, the book deals with the concept of the individual's inner antagonism against the concept of civilization. It dwells on how the evolution of civilization actually ended up shackling man and made him, to put it simply, sad. I'm not only talking about libido here and there's a lot more you'll end up learning including the prospect of the ultimate clash between Eros and the masochistic self-destructive human impulse. Yup, it's that simple. 

4. The Last Guardian


I wrap up with a moment of personal indulgence and inexpressible, exorbitant grief. Artemis Fowl, a childhood companion, a personal idol and an inspiration will cease to exist. Artemis Fowl...deserves a separate blog post. 

Must read series.

The book falls short of coming anywhere close to the better ones in the series but read it for the memories and a final, maddeningly fleeting glimpse of the criminal boy genius.

Worth a brief mention: I re-read Dracula. Horror has never again been so classy; A collection of short-stories by Herman Melville included the poignant tale, Bartleby; Henry James wrote several complex, detailed and indisputably beautiful short stories. Daisy Miller is a must read.

What was your favourite book last year? I'd love to know...

H