Playlist for August: Books

Back again with the playlists! It’s the beginning of August and I’m glad to say I’ve got my reading mojo back. This is the first week in a while that I actually haven’t got anything to read and as a result been bored beyond belief. I need constant fodder for my soul to stay alive, guys. Also don’t ask why I’m calling this a playlist when I could just call it a reading list. It sounds snappier, I think. I don’t know, okay? I don’t know.

Here are 5 of the books I read in the last few weeks.

  • The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt

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This book was given to me as a birthday gift by the rather wonderful Rohit Chakraborty, bless him. (Go check out his writing on this blog as a part of Melodies!) The book follows the story of the protagonist/narrator, Eli Sisters, during the peak of the California Gold Rush, as he and his brother track an elusive traitor and a missing informant for their equally mysterious boss, the Commodore. de Witt does a great job of depicting the madness of the times.

The story comes in small dollops throughout a nearly cinematic arrangement of very short chapters.

With its a darkly funny jadedness, it conveys an overwhelming feeling of isolation and sadness that is easily relatable in the modern world, and that’s why I like it so much: it deals with moral dilemmas the 21st century struggles with while creating a realistic setting of 1850s America.  I found it a very interesting, if somewhat bloody and melancholy, read. Also, how cool is the cover?!

  • Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, by Devdutt Pattnaik

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Now, the last book I actually own, so I could take a nice picture before putting it in the list. This one I borrowed from a munificent professor, so we must make do with the really terrible camera quality of my phone. (I’m poor, you guys.) This book traces stories that present a theme of queerism in Hindu mythology, and it is awesome.  The book contains a number of really short stories, sometimes no more than a page, that mostly deal with gender fluidity and sometimes with alternate sexualities.

The writing is easy and fluid, and the introduction rivals the one to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.

It was the first Pattanaik book I’ve read and it has set me on a trajectory of devouring all of them. Please read this so that the next time your neighbourly auntyji tells you to ‘be sanskari’ (ie, follow heteronormative patriarchal rules) you can throw this book in their face and do a dance routine right there.

  • Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean (A Graphic Novel), by Amruta Patil

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Fresh on the heels of the queerest of Hindu Mythology come some of the most controversial of Hindu mythology. Adi Parva is a graphic novel retelling the beginning of the Mahabharat.

The first thing that struck me about the story was its non-linear telling; the second, that it felt incomplete.

Of course, it is incomplete, ending as it does at the beginning of the story, and hella confusing to keep track of, I might add. It destroys the idea of a straightforward chronological plot, jumping about all over the place (and the times), and is narrated in the typical meandering fashion that characerises Hindu stories.  

The illustrations are nothing short of incredible.

This being a graphic novel, they are just as important to the story as the words, if not more. The creator uses a variety of media, from what I could tell: there seemed to be oil pastel creations, as well as charcoal, oil paint and water colour. The textures of the pictures therefore keep differing, which affects the way you read the story quite a bit.

One can’t impose a sense of order on this book, which might actually be one of the points of the book: that order and time are human constructs to understand a universe fundamentally beyond our understanding. The experience of reading this book can’t be replicated, that’s for sure.

  • The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathan Stroud

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This was easily one of the most fun reads of this year. The story centres around the demon narrator, Bartimaeus, a djinni who has been summoned to King Solomon’s kingdom, where a sinister plot has been batched by the magician Khaba. Meanwhile, the Queen of Sheba is troubled by demon messengers from King Solomon himself. In revenge, she sends one of her own Guard to carry out an impossible task. Caught in the crossfire, the book deals with Bartimaeus’s attempts to act of his own free will and still escape alive.

The book is an off-shoot of the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Stroud, which I also read this month.

This book shares the trilogy’s general darkly comic narration with a gernerous sprinkling of sass from Bartimaeus. The trilogy, however, severely lacks women characters except for literally exactly one important figure of a young girl. This book follows kind of the same trajectory, except that due to its narrower focus, the number of characters addressed at length are relatively fewer and thus the girl, proportionally, occupies a greater portion of the book. Also, most white authors make the mistake of writing POC characters and stories from different cultures with the exact same tone of voice that a white American would speak in. This one is no exception.

Having said that, the books are adventurous and allow one to slip into a fictional universe quite easily.

It doesn’t even feel like it’s childish, although it’s meant to be for kids. Which is pretty cool. Or maybe I’m just childish and I don’t see it yet. Either way, a fun read from start to finish.

  • Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett

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This summer I was introduced to the glorious multiverse of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. (Incidentally, that same professor is responsible for this.) The first one I read was The Wyrd Sisters, which was hilarious and wonderfully written and immensely touching and nothing short of incredible. And then I read this book.

As far as the story goes, it’s about a hapless police inspector of the city-state of Ankh-Morpork, Captain Vimes, trying to figure out two bizarre crimes which suddenly seem to be not quite as unconnected as they did before. The Patrician of the city, meanwhile, falls ill from suspected poisoning and the heads of the Guilds rise up as one to point fingers at Vimes himself. And in the background, a shadowy plot is thickening that Vimes can feel, but can’t quite see…

I believe some books come into your life and they suddenly remind you of why literature is such a great thing.

The answer doesn’t lie in the idea of writing vast stories uttering great truths about the human condition: the answer lies in the fact that you can write vast stories uttering great truths about the human condition and have so much fun with it. That’s what this novel does: first and foremost, it is an absolute riot of a story with golems and ogres and dwarves and werewolves and things being set on fire and dragons chuckling in the darkness and whatnot, and then it is a book that tells you, point-blank, some not very pretty truths about humans and how we behave. Like Agatha Christie and Douglas Adams, Pratchett does this with a sense of gentle, profound sympathy. It’s everything I love to read and hope to do with my prose some day.

And that’s all!

I ATTEMPTED to keep this t0 under 500 words, which I obviously failed to do horribly. Never mind. Let me know what you think of these books when you read them, and send in your suggestions as well.

See you on Sunday with a new playlist. I hope your August is filled with great reading adventures!


Most of these books have been mentioned in my tweets, and throughout August I will continue to tweet all the music, books and films that I experience. Go follow me on @rushmukh on Twitter for more music, literature, films, art and poetry!

 

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