Rising to Expectations

waters-of-eternal-youthDonna Leon’s last few books were disappointingly lackluster and almost felt like they had not been written by her. So it was with great trepidation that we approached The Waters of Eternal Youth, The 25th Guido Brunetti Book, wondering whether we should read it at all. But we are fans and as such we always live in hope as far as our favourite writers are concerned. And this time the hope was justified. Leon seems to be back in full form, almost. Brunetti, his family and colleagues seemed themselves again and of course Venice, with its beauty and problems and food, which largely accounts for the appeal of the books, was ever present. 

Brunetti, Leon’s  food, book and family loving Commissario  of Police has been asked by his mother-in-law’s friend to look into a possible crime committed against her granddaughter fifteen years ago. The girl had fallen into a canal and remained underwater long enough for her brain to be damaged. But her grandmother was convinced that she had been pushed because being an aqua-phobic she would not have voluntarily walked close enough to the water to have fallen in accidentally. Typically, while carrying out the investigation Brunetti’s interactions with those around him, their discussions on life in Venice and the problems faced by the city provide the main focus of the book.

The reader also gets to see Brunetti physically ageing in this book and its not just a matter of his children getting older. He now feels the need to stop at the second landing, while climbing up to his flat, to catch his breath. He needs his reading glasses and is less sure of his footing on a wet street. These little personal insights, not to mention his pleasure in the Paccheri Con Tonno his wife serves him for dinner, make him, as always, a character the reader can easily identify with. Moreover there is the aspect of Brunetti’s moral compass, which, since Donna Leon is back in form, is evident that much more. In a cynical world, it is good to see humanity, at least within the pages of a book.

Brunetti’s colleague, Claudia Griffoni, also has a prominent role in the investigation, with her place in the Questura having developed over the last few books. Her relationship with Brunetti serves to bring a female point of view to the police work ( beyond that of the slightly frightening perfection of Signorina Elettra).

Only a woman while investigating a crime could with such assurance  reason that women don’t use knives to kill and the proof of this lies in the kitchen. 

“The knives are kept in the kitchen, and their husbands pass through there every day, countless times, yet very few of them get stabbed. That’s because women don’t use knives and they don’t stab people.”

We were also interested to learn that Italy has a statute of limitations, even for serious crimes. And that the period continue to run during the course of the trial. So if the trial takes too long and the conviction does not happen within the ten year period from the date of the crime, the accused can walk away free. All the more reason to procrastinate, one would think. Strange are the ways of criminal procedure. 

The Waters of Eternal Youth is a typical Donna Leon mystery in which the mystery is more a backdrop for the development and journey of it’s dramatis personae. As such you forget to look for the red herrings and loopholes in the plot and focus instead on the hard moral questions asked by the characters. 

A book by its title

Despite being told not to judge a book by its cover we often end up doing so. But why is it that people rarely warn about picking a book by its title? More often than not the title comes from the author whereas the covers are created by the publisher. We invariably end up agonising over titles and names and so we know the value of the interesting and intriguing book titles that abound.

Many books are simply named after a character like, Emma, Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, Marley etc. and it’s worked well for them. Some are named after places in the book like Wuthering Hights, Jurassic Park and the magically named Neverwhere and that seems to work too. Another favourite are the Shakespearean titles which seem to work well for the murder mysteries and Agatha Christie seems to have picked the maximum number of these. Even Dorothy L. Sayers and Ruth Rendall have been swayed by the appeal of naming their books in the same way.

We particularly like the titles that are inventive and are not only catchy but mean more after reading the book. We recently read Donna Leon’s ‘The Waters of Eternal Youth’ and were fascinated how a phrase which refers to something desirable has a very negative implication in the book. We realised it refers to an acquaphobic who was attacked and fell into a canal in Venice and since remained mentally fixed at the age of sixteen.

We especially admire authors who come up with fascinating titles book after book in a series. Douglas Adams tops the list with The Hitchhikers series. Who wouldn’t want to pick up a book titled ‘A Restaurant at the End of the Universe’or ‘So Long and Thanks for all the Fish’. Alexander McCall Smith’s the Sunday Philosophy Club series has titles like ‘The Careful Use of Compliments’ and ‘The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds’ just to mention a few. The there is Alan Bradley with ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ etc. One of the most beloved titles that just encapsulates the entire book and the book lives up to promise of its title is Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.

We especially love the magical and quirky titles like ‘Five Quarters of an Orange’ by Joanne Harris, ‘The Kitchen God’s Wife’ by Amy Tan and ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ by Terry Pratchett.

In our experience, sometimes judging a book by its title is totally worth it. If nothing else,  we end up learning a great quote from some obscure earlier work or poem.

Sorting an arachnid

Fiction and stories matter and some matter more than others. Some stories work their magic beyond the pages of the book and the cinema screens. They go further than the writers imagination and the readers perceptions, transcending age and genre by becoming part of popular culture. Even people who have not read the stories know about them and aspects of those stories become part of our daily thinking and language.

This has happened in the past with myths, with Shakespeare and even with George Orwell. We so often use phrases like ‘a wild goose chase’ and ‘the green eyed monster’ without realising that they were coined by Shakespeare. And these days especially, how often do we warn people that ‘big brother is watching’ without realising we are quoting George Orwell’s 1984.

In recent times the books that have infiltrated popular culture the most are probably the Harry Potter series. The word Muggle has even entered the Oxford English Dictionary to describe a person who does not have a particular skill set. When complaining about a demon of a boss, employees will refer to him as ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’. So, exciting as the news was, it didn’t come as a surprise when three researchers -Javed Ahmed, Rajashree Khalap and Sumukha JN, working in the Western Ghats in Southern India, discovered a new and strange looking species of spider that they immediately felt reminded them of the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter books and named it Eriovixia Gryffindori. The sorting hat which sorted students into their houses at Hogwarts originally belonged to one of the founders of the school- Godric Gryffindor.

Though not a big fan of arachnids, we found the exchange between the researchers and J.K.Rowling very cute.

We named a spider, after the sorting hat, from the films! 🙂 Meet Eriovixia gryffindori. Link to paper:

. I’m truly honoured! Congratulations on discovering another ! 👉🕷

Thank YOU! My colleague and I are equally honored to have named it after a character from your fabulous books!

So what next, we wonder? A constellation Dumbledore?

 

 

 

The Paranoid Few

The world, in 2017 is rolling on its usual course around the sun, looking pretty as a picture for the astronauts on the ISS, everything is hunky dory and God is in his heaven etc. (possibly talking to the Pope since everyone is on the phone these days). Global warming is of course a myth. The world is not warming up despite the fact that we have had an unusually warm summer last year and a non-existent winter. But that’s just a one off and let’s shove under the carpet the fact the last three years have been the warmest in history. Nothing to do with us and it’s not the fault of anyone on earth. All those scientists, ecologist and environmentalists, basically the cuckoos, who claim otherwise are just that – cuckoos. They don’t know what they are talking about and do not have the qualifications or learning to know any better. Worse, they are possibly influenced by extraneous considerations or just plane paranoid.

img_20170109_082910-2So, the pink Poui (Tabebuia Rosea) which should be blooming in March has decided to freak out instead in January this year. That is not at all significant- maybe the tree just felt like it this year. Or maybe it’s trying to compete with the Bauhinia Variegata which bloomed in December instead of waiting till February (we learnt more about the tree from the blog wildwanderer.com). Since the trees are turning rogue, they have to be dealt with accordingly. In any case the flowers make a mess of the streets and pavements, not to mention pollen pollution. Best that they are done away with completely. Chop the trees! Nicer to replace all such woody accompaniments with steel flyovers. That is the way to go.

However, we sadly fall under the cuckoo category and like the weather to be the way it was meant to be in Bangalore. Warm in summer, chilly in winter and never too hot. The rains were always around when needed. Gardens bloomed, so also trees, as per schedule. We still bemoan the loss of the sparrows and proliferation of steel, concrete and glass. The Arctic should be frozen and the Whales and Polar bears need to survive. The glaciers shouldn’t be turning into torrential rivers sweeping away the plains, raising sea level and drowning coasts and islands. It’s not a hoax, people. Please wake up. Consume less, pollute less, try to preserve and grow more trees. And please start to care. If anything, that is what 2017 should be about.

Catching Up

img_0053The world is changing and in somethings it changed a long, long time ago and we find ourselves wanting. So as it’s the beginning of the year we decided to take stock of the things that have overtaken us. We are not sure that any of them will become resolutions for the year but at least we will know where to look if we want inspiration for a resolution list.
It almost feels that life is now lived and experienced through photos. From what we eat, to what we read to where we have been, it only happened if it is recorded in a photo. The visual has become more important than the written word. A photo is now worth a thousand words. We are amazed at the beauty, creativity, style and effort taken over the photos posted on the net. We actually got round to creating a Mostly Mondays Litsy account but have not managed to post anything because we are too embarrassed by the basic nature of our photographs. The accompanying photo is our first attempt at doing something about this.
The other thing that is happening around us is that reading seems to be losing out to ‘watching’. We still lag behind in this. We would still rather read the book than watch the series or the movie (pay attention GRRM) and when we watch something we really like, we wonder – ‘Is this based on a book? How can we get hold of the book?’ (Expect for The Night Manager, which has been picturised beautifully, not to mention Tom Hiddleston acting in the main role. Plus, you have to admit John Le Carre can be tedious sometimes.)
Social media and living one’s life on it, are cause for consternation and bemusement as far as we are concerned. Except for blogging, which is not quite the same. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and their ilk leave us with an expression which can only be interpreted as “Eh?!” But we do blog. In our time, at our pace and not necessarily for effect. Blogging is a more peaceful activity and the people we follow have more to say than just one line.
The topic of ‘one lines’ leads us to the new language of abbreviated words and phrases, not to mention the hieroglyphics of little faces (which is again to do with the visual as the abbreviated words are probably insufficient to express true feeling). The substitution of words with acronyms has us really worried and reaching for an interpreter, especially when kids respond to questions with DKDC (Don’t know, don’t care – apparently). So, do we have to make more of an effort to learn this new language creeping up on us against our better judgement? Perhaps the idea is not to judge but go with the flow or GWTF :).
We also find that we are obsessed with hoarding information, even electronic information, which is apparently not done these days. We tend to treat it like we did physical information that had to be kept safely because it constituted memories. Which is why we find things like snap chat, that self-destruct, unnatural. Can you imagine something like that? What if one needs to refer to it in a few weeks? All information is critical – do not destroy! Ok, so we have to learn to let information go. Also stuff in cupboards. Note to selves – clean out cupboards.
Then there are things like diet and fitness fads which we have never really got the hang of. We still don’t quite understand what CrossFit is, even though it is all over the place. And calorie counting? Please! Hand over the Shortbread!

And the award goes to…

One of the joys of having a blog is that you get to be totally self-indulgent and as a treat to ourselves we have decided to end the year by giving away awards, to people (both real and fictional), books and for events that have entertained or upset us through the year. So, read on for the winners of the Mostly Mondays (Because We Can) Awards for the year 2016*

Procrastinator of the year – Patrick Rothfuss ( he of the Kingkiller Chronicles fame)

PS: We are still, after five years, waiting for The Doors of Stone, the third instalment of the King Killer Chronicles.

LL: And I am guessing that if by ‘popular demand’ we have an award ceremony again next year Patrick Rothfuss will be collecting this award again.

Most Dependable Author of the year – Jonathan Stroud

LL: We love the fact that we can trust Jonathan Stroud for our regular fix of Lockwood & Co, the series that celebrates friendship, tea and ghosts.

PS:  We also thought we should take this opportunity to let him know (and hope that word gets around to him) that since the next Lockwood book will be the last in the series he is prohibited from killing off any of the main characters.

LL: And if he chooses to ignore our suggestion he will never, ever again get any awards from us.

Most Redundant Author (as opposed to writer for TV series) of the year – George RR Martin (GRRM)

PS: With season 6 of the GoT (TV series)overtaking GRRM’s Song of Fire and Ice epic fantasy series (books) and with season 7 on schedule to roll out next year, people don’t seem to care about his books anymore, it’s all about GoT the series now.

LL: I am still waiting…

The Disappointer of the year – VE Schwab’s ‘A Gathering of Shadows’

LL: Seriously, I almost feel like saying – woe betide authors who take you on a wonderfully fantastical ride with the first book in a series, merely to leave you waiting for the train to leave the station in the second.

The Reappearance of the year – Harry Potter

PS: The boy wizard makes a reappearance and more money for his creator. This time around it is as the man wizard, in West End’s sold out stage play ‘The Cursed Child’ and its bestseller script.

The Biggest Regression of the year – the US election results

LL: Still waiting for women power…

The Biggest Googly of the year – Demonetisation

PS: And the unpredictability continues, as we are not sure if it is demonetisation or a national level game of Calvinball (making up the rules as you go along) that is being played out.

The Biggest Surprise of the year – Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘Eligible’

LL: Given our scepticism of the Austen Project and the books that have come out of it we were surprised that we not only read it but also by how much we enjoyed it.

The Churner of the year (and every year) – Brandon Sanderson

PS: How does he do it? Brandon Sanderson is one of the most prolific authors in the complex world building, big fat satisfying, fantasy books genre.

And finally…

The Award for the Strangest Award of the year – the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan

…!?!…

And thank you to WordPress and all those who take the time to read whatever we have to say. We have had an entertaining year blogging.

 

* Please note, that for environmental reasons, none of the Awardees will receive any certificate or plaque from Mostly Mondays, they are however welcome to read this post and share it with all their contacts, for their own publicity not ours.

Reading Royally

the-uncommon-reader

What would happen if the Queen became a serious reader? She is, after all, known to have many interests – horses, dogs, hats etc. But somehow the public does not know if she reads and what she reads. Unlike certain Heads of States (more precisely Barrack Obama) who put out their Christmas reading lists and Summer reading lists, the Queen does no such thing. So Alan Bennett‘s delightful little book ‘The Uncommon Reader’ is an imagined account of the Queen discovering books.

We very much enjoyed chancing upon this hilarious and sometimes touching story of a new reader, immersed in the books she has discovered. As readers we can understand, when the Queen claims a ‘slight cold’ that keeps her in bed, all because she is in the midst of a good book. As also the desire to shut out the rest of the world and her resentment at the call of duty as they interfere with finishing the book in hand. All readers are vaguely aware that this shutting out of the world causes  considerable irritation in the people around us who want to make demands on our time. But that is of course their problem. It is not then surprising that the reader can sympathise very much with the Queen when the irritation actually manifests itself in the insidious ways in which her household and equerries try to separate her from her books.

In a way some of the situations in the book are very similar to the Yes Minister series where the bureaucrats’ require those under their purview to conform and not go off and do their own thing without permission. Similarly, the Queen while attending functions, is not supposed  to veer away from the prescribed formula of asking her subjects where they have travelled from and how long it took them to get there. Instead she stumps people by asking them what they are reading! And surprisingly, no one seemed to have an answer. Apparently nobody reads.

The book has many insights into what readers feel about books and reading ‘A book did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic.’  and ‘Books are wonderful aren’t they? At the risk of sounding like a piece of steak,’ she said, ‘they tenderise one.’

As always, it’s nice to read books about books and the reading experience. And one always identifies with the obstacles faced by readers in their pursuit of books, no matter where they come from. Alan Bennett’s novella is quirky and whimsical and makes the Queen sound very human, particularly when she has a book open on her lap, while seated in her carriage, and just looks up once in a while to wave to the people lining the road. Somewhat like a child who is ostensibly studying but actually reading Harry Potter behind the cover of a school text book.