What makes the money?

Forbes magazine recently came out with another one of its annual lists pertaining to the wealthiest, richest, magnificientest etc. persons. This one was a list of the highest paid authors in the last one year, having sold phenomenal numbers of their books, movie rights and book based merchandise. None of the persons featuring would be considered literary geniuses but, then again, that is not what making money is about.

Not surprisingly J K Rowling topped the list this year, the release of the Cursed Child having placed her there. It is quite another matter that the word ‘cursed’ is an oxymoron when used in conjunction with any book written by JK considering the magic her books have worked on the author’s bank balance. This year she displaced James Patterson who had apparently topped the list for the last three years. He is an author who has somehow never figured on our reading lists. Neither have too many of the others for that matter.

With the exception of John Grisham and Dan Brown and the children’s authors whose popularity with the younger readers comes close to achieving a cult following, the popularity of the others mystifies us. As far as Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson books) go, parents are just grateful that they are getting the children to read. Rick Riordan is largely to be credited for the resurgence in interest in Greek and Egyptian mythology with pre-teens throwing around random bits of information about classical mythology and the Olympians and leaving their parents wide eyed. Had he been an Indian, we can imagine a godman advising him to construct a temple to those gods because of whom he has become so famous (read ‘rich’) leading to a resurgence of dead religions and long forgotten gods. A separate business plan could be constructed around the religious experience thereby bringing further wealth to the writer. We can see thirteen year olds buying Medusa Shampoos and Poseidon bottled water. The Nike sneakers already exist but the Hermes ones would do as well.

So, readers, it would seem, are creatures of habit. They like the authors who are able to churn out their standard formula, at regular intervals. With the exception of Paula Hawkins who has written just two books so far, all the other authors on the list do not believe in deviating too often from their regular style (Dan Brown and John Grisham both deserve honourable mentions here), so much so that they become boring after a while. But it doesn’t matter because it obviously works. After all, what is gained by being on the long or short list of the numerous literary awards around? The Forbes list is the one list to be on. The writers all know whom they are writing for and are able to satisfy their readers year after year. Also, no one is surprised to see EL James on the list. We all know what sells. And so does she.

 

Always Jane

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There is really nothing we can say about Jane Austen that hasn’t already been said. But as fans we couldn’t really meet and not discuss the fact that this year is the 200th anniversary of her death. Around the globe the last one month has had Janeites coming together and organising events to pay homage. These functions have been attended with a good mix of enthusiasm and Regency costumes. So, with a dearth of Austenmania happening locally, we felt the least we could do was raise a cheer and write a blog post.

After numerous movies and television adaptations in various languages, biographies, inspired books, references to her characters and even her face now featuring on bank notes, Jane Austen remains relevant despite the passage of so many years. The fan fiction based on her books probably outstrips any other author’s. Even established authors like PD James (Death comes to Pemberley) and the ones roped in for the Austen project (Joanna Trollop, Val McDiarmid, Alexander McCall Smith and Curtis Sittenfeld) have been at some point or the other, seduced into fan fiction.

People talk about cutting wit and tongue in cheek aspects of Austen’s writing but in fact what it boils down to is the bitchiness of her characters comments, which feel real even today. Many of her characters are people who have transcended time, different cultures and social attitudes. Which just goes to prove that human beings are basically the same no matter which part of the world or which time they come from. Our lives are littered with versions of the opinionated Mr. Collins, the air headed Mrs. Bennetts, the full of themselves Wickhams and Mr. Eltons, the naive Harriets, the resigned Anne Elliots, the know it all Emmas and the numerous social butterflies and climbers that Austen’s books are littered with.

But of course everyone is still searching for ‘dear’ Mr. Darcy! He is still unreal. The best part of it is that when we come across these people in our lives who would ordinarily really irritate us, we find ourselves applying the appropriate Jane Austen quote and laughing them off.  Perhaps therein lies the true appeal of Austen in that she helps us to better deal with others’ foibles by helping us to caricaturise them.

More than anything we can say to explain Jane Austen’s popularity, we feel her writing speaks for itself:

“Better be without sense than misapply it as you do.” (Emma)

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible” (Northanger Abbey)

“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure” (Mansfield Park)

“Eleanor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of  rational opposition” (Sense and Sensibility)

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” (Mansfield Park)

“You have no respect for my poor nerves.”                                                                                 “You mistake me my dear, I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.” (Pride and Prejudice)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice) – This is quite possibly one of the most quoted first lines of a book.

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” (Sense and Sensibility) – A quote made famous for being paraphrased in the Batman Begins movie. But Jane Austen said it first.

One can go on and on with the quotes but they are, as is to be expected, much better read within the books.

 

 

 

Liberation by e reader

Books are back! Or so most newspaper and magazine articles are telling us. The charm of e-books is waning and there is an increase in the sale of physical books. Yay! We knew it was bound to happen. After all, no e-reader can replicate the feel and smell of paper. Have you noticed even dogs are more attracted to physical books and not e-readers? This could of course be because of the low munchability factor of the Kindle but we put it down to the intrinsic (and perhaps fragrant) charm of printed paper.

Unfortunately we are always behind the curve and take our time jumping in. When e-readers first came out, nobody and their dog turned up their noses at them like we did. And when we finally succumbed and got ourselves e-readers (Kindles, to be more precise) and are finally ready to sing their praises, apparently they are not happening anymore.

We have contemplated the advantages and disadvantages of e-book readers before, (Are you e reading? and Is e ink blotting out print?) but a fractured ankle a few months back made us realise the biggest advantage of e readers, which as blinkered people (we have to own up to our own deficiencies) had failed to consider. For a person who is house bound because of either a temporary or permanent disability an e book reader is God sent.

PS: My very first worry after coming out of the hospital was how to return my library books.

LL: Trust you to make that your first worry. Not food, not the house or its inhabitants, not the dog walking but the library books.

PS: Couldn’t help it. The books were sitting on the bedside table glaring at me for being overdue and, as you remember, I had to keep asking my visitors if they were headed in the direction of the library. At least with e books you don’t have to rely on someone to go to the library for you.

LL: Or I suppose to the bookstore when you need to buy books because you are running out of reading material or when a new book by a ‘must read author’ comes out. Even when your friends get the books for you, you still feel limited because getting the book is different from browsing and then deciding to buy the book.

PS: I know. Just the thought of it is claustrophobic.  It’s the combination of online payments, internet browsing and the ereader provide you with the convenience of browsing for books, reading reviews, buying and instant downloads all without moving from your bed that gives you a euphoric feeling to rival the pain medication.

LL: Better than an opioid? Seriously?

PS:Think about it, it’s two o’clock in the morning, can’t sleep; worried about the next day’s doctors appointment; need to take your mind off broken bones and the futility of months spent sitting in bed.

LL: Feeling the walls hemming you in?

PS: Precisely. So the obvious solution is to download books and travel to a different town, country or even better, a different universe.

The appeal of grumpiness

a man called OveA book that apparently began with a blog about the writer’s pet peeves was then turned into a surprisingly successful novel about a cantankerous old man whose attempts to commit suicide are constantly being interrupted by his neighbours. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, is about the transformation that can be brought about by social interactions.

Although it would be easy to attribute all the peeves that Ove has in the book – with the younger generation, the local council, people working in IT, hospitals, parking lots, foreign brands of cars etc.- to normal old age behaviour, we realised that we identified with most of Ove’s complaints and obviously so does the author who is so much younger than us. Which is a relief because it just goes to prove that one is allowed to be cranky at any age. Particularly when it comes to the opinions about IT professionals! Leaving all that aside, the gradual change of a reclusive and curmudgeonly man through forced association and socialising with those much younger than him including his adoption by a stray cat, is not very new and distinctly Silas Marnerish. But the book is touching and humorous despite the underlying theme of loneliness and despair.

As with the earlier book of Fredrick Backman that we had reviewed (My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises) A Man Called Ove is translated from the Swedish. But if, as they say, something is always lost in translation we can only wonder at how well the original must read. 

The book is incredibly funny and readable despite being totally politically incorrect. Or perhaps because of it, since political incorrectness is now fashionable across the world. ‘Covefe’? 

Tabebuia Heaven

A short story inspired by and written as a tribute to those Bangaloreans who persisted with the protest against the proposed 6.72 kilometre steel flyover in the city. Also in memory of the seventeen trees recently killed on the outer ring road by acid being poured around their roots. This was done to provide a better view of an advertisement hoarding which displayed the beauty of sunsets in New York! And for the scores of other trees around the city suffering a similar fate, making way for ‘progress’.

 Tabebuia Heaven

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That day started with a series of objections. Vriksh’s father threw a fit, “You’re mad! I forbid you from going out and wasting the entire day standing in some foolish human chain. Your exams come first. You are seventeen years old, for heaven’s sake. Leave city management to other people. You need to focus on your exams because if you don’t get a good engineering seat, you won’t get a good job with a good salary and your life will be a waste!”

Being seventeen Vriksh couldn’t keep his mouth shut, “None of that will matter if I am going to be sick and dying in ten years’ time from choked air, chemical laden water and a plague ridden, rat infested city from all the garbage lying on the streets, not to mention  the plastic bags flying around in the apocalyptic breeze.”

“Oh stop the melodrama. At least you will have money to pay for your treatment.”

“No Appa, my pus oozing bubonic sores and wracking bronchial passages will prevent me from going to work and earning any money.”

On his way out he bumped into neighbour aunty who gave him her bit of ‘gyan’. “You will get heat stroke. Your parents will be so worried. You will miss college for so many days. And for what? So that you can post it on Facebook that you stood in a queue with so many crackpots?”

The watchman in the apartment complex was stoic “Bhayya, the politicians have already collected their share. Nothing will stop it now. Relax, you have AC at home. Why do you want to stand in the sun?”

At the end of the street his dad’s friend Sharma Uncle, who Vriksh was certain had been positioned there by his distraught father, waylaid him. “You young people these days! Because everything comes to you so easily you have no ambition. No seriousness towards life. Think of your parents and all the sacrifices they have made. This is how you repay them? By wasting your time in foolish and frivolous pursuits.”

By this time Vriksh was wilting under the weight of censure. His phone rang. “Dude!” exclaimed his friend Aaryan, “You are not seriously going ahead with this? Anyway we are going to get jobs in the US, so who cares how many trees are cut in this city? But now that you have broken out of the parental prison let’s spend the time more constructively. Meet me at the mall.”

The next time the phone rang he was chilling on the bus in a traffic jam. It turned out to be his father’s sister. Since aunts aren’t gentlemen, even the guy sitting next to him heard her. “Steel shmeel. Whatever. Progress cannot be stopped. Look at how horrible the traffic in the city is. Something has to be done. Only idiots are protesting against it. A few trees chopped here and there… what is eight or nine hundred in the larger scheme of things? It’s just collateral damage. If you are so concerned, plant one in front of your building.”

The human chain was pretty much well formed by the time Vriksh reached Mehkri Circle, with people of all ages from all over the city thronging around with a sense of purpose. It included celebrities and surprisingly, even some foreigners. Somebody handed him a placard which he faithfully held up after patting a nearby tree to reassure it. And then his mother called.

“Vriksh, I really appreciate that you want to take a stand. I brought you up to be an environmentally conscious boy. But I don’t want you to be disappointed. Because nobody ever listens. The protest will ultimately benefit no one but the TV channels who will get their sound bites. In reality all governance is infested with apathy and rampant corruption. And people like us are never heard. Come back home. You have made your point.”

But Vriksh rooted himself to the ground and stood firm in his conviction. Come what may he would show the government, along with the three thousand other people in the chain that Bangalore did not want the unholy massacre of trees to facilitate a steel flyover which would make no significant difference to the congestion in the city.

Four months later in the season of the Tabebuia Argentia, blooming golden across Bangalore, the government announced that the steel flyover project had been scrapped due to public demand. Vriksh, who had spent the intervening time dealing with questions the like of “What did you manage to achieve?” smiled. The next day in a small neighbourhood park he sat, books beside him, on the grass carpeted with sunshine blossoms as the light breeze dislodged more petals from the exuberant tree. At least in this one instance the protests had managed to thwart those who carelessly build “a Hell in Heaven’s despite”.

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(Thank you Shabri, for allowing us to use your photo ‘Meditation Under the Tabebuia’.)

Found in translation

my-grandmother-sends-her-regardsSweden is in the news. So not surprisingly, being readers, our conversation soon veered from supposed attacks, to horses rescued from wells, to an English translation of a Swedish book we had read recently. Fredrik  BackmansMy Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises‘ (American title ‘My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She Is Sorry’) translated by Henning Koch, was delightful, quirky, poignant, full of humour and throughly enjoyable. 

Seven year old Elsa is precocious to the hilt and  her Grandmother is her superhero because to her ‘a grandmother is both a sword and a shield’. Her school and her mother think Elsa needs to learn to ‘fit in’ but her grandmother knows that she is perfect and introduces her to an entire land of the imagination where currency is not coins but good stories. Elsa and her grandmother are not just inhabitants of this land together but friends in real life. When her grandmother dies she entrusts Elsa with the task of delivering a series of letters, personally, to various people that takes her on a journey of discovery. 

PS: Often stories get lost in translation.No matter how good the translation is, it is not possible to bring out the nuances of one language in another. But strangely we didn’t even realise that this was a translation. 

LL: I think I was initially too absorbed by the craziness of the grandmother who fires paintballs from her balcony and breaks into the zoo in the middle of the night and assaults beleaguered police officers with animal poop. 

PS: Any child who has read ‘superior literature’ would want a Grandmother who can argue the merits of Spider-Man vis a vis Harry Potter. 

LL: The book is full of blurring of lines between being a child and being an adult, reality and fantasy, goodness and evil and death and life and all of this somehow combines to make a story that sharpens the focus on life. 

This is a book about accepting people and their eccentricities. And about how the circumstances of life can effect people differently: “Because not all monsters were monsters in the beginning. Some are monsters born of sorrow.” It is also about finding unlikely companionship in a journey dealing with loss. Ultimately we were a little envious that Fredrik  Backman, being so young (in his early thirties when he wrote this book), can write so insightfully.

The taste of it all

Not surprisingly, in any situation, food is what draws people’s interest. Ultimately it’s not the mystery in murder mysteries, not the thrill in the thrillers, the magic in the fantasies or the science in the sci-fi that readers remember the most from books. What sticks in the readers mind will be the hunk of bread and cheese, stew or the elvish bread that the protagonist eats at the edge of a battle field after a gory and protracted battle or while trying to hide from the sinister eye on top of the tower, amongst other dire situations.The sense of comfort in a much besieged character having the opportunity to tuck into something as simple as a scotch egg or even the horror at the ability of a character to enjoy a dainty lemon cake in the midst of murder and mayhem remains with reader long after the book itself has been digested.

The food in fiction is the one reality everyone can identify with. It makes the characters more empathetic and relatable and somewhere along the line, authors, probably besieged by questions of ‘Why that particular dish?’ or ‘Do you have the recipe for…’ decided it’s easier to come out with spin off cookbooks that deal with people’s food obsessions, no matter how bizarre some of the recipes may sound. Ultimately the fun in these spin off cookbooks is not necessarily in the cookability of the dishes or accessibility of the ingredients but instead it lies in the little quips and quotes from the characters that pepper each recipe. And if one is actually able to cook using the recipes, there is a sensory transport of the reader to the world of the book. After all, part of the appeal of Universal Studio’s Harry Potter World is the tasting of Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. 

Here is our list of literary cookbooks which we have read and enjoyed and also some which are on our wishlist. 

  1. Brunetti’s Cookbook by Roberta Pianaro and Donna Leon (A Taste of Venice-At Table with Brunetti). Full of the recipes of the scrumptious food described in Donna Leon’s commissario Brunetti Mysteries. The are all eminently cookable and enjoyable. Even if one doesn’t enjoy cooking it’s a feast just to read. 
  2. Nanny Oggs Cookbook by Terry Pratchett, Tina Hannan and Steve Briggs. Written in the typical, naughty, Nanny Ogg style with common sense advice mixed in with rude songs and plenty of double entendres thrown in to spice it up. The bawdy witch from Discworld makes hilarious reading. 
  3. A Feast of Ice and Fire -the Official Game of Thrones Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer The medieval kitchen via Westeros is beautifully illustrated. We haven’t as yet gotten around to getting hold of this one but it seems the recipes are not too outlandish and include little descriptions of the authors cooking the dishes. The Authors had been blogging (innatthecrossroads.com) for some time about the food in Game of Thrones before compiling the book. 
  4. The Shire Cookbook – also by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. The Hobbits were exceedingly fond of food and it’s about time that a book with the Shire foods mentioned in Lord of the Rings was brought out. We can’t wait to get hold of this one. 
  5. Roahl Dhal’s Revolting Recipes – we love this one just for names like Snozzcumbers, Mud Burgers and Stinkbug Eggs. It’s just the regular stuff with lots of food colouring and a practical guide on how to make them. Delightfully disgusting. 

Then there are of course numerous unofficial cook books based on well loved literature, like The Little House Cookbook, The Jane Austen Cookbook, The Pooh Cookbook, The Ann of Green Gables Cookbook and so on. It just goes to show that readers are keen to savour the food eaten by their favourite characters. 

The ones we are still waiting for are the Chocolat Cookbook by Joanna Harris, the authorised Asterix Cookbook (with inputs from Druid Getafix and none from the fish monger Unhygienix’s wife), the authorised Enid Blyton Cookbook and the Extremely Indulgent Lockwood Cookbook by Jonathan Stroud.