Friday, September 10, 2004

Weirdness! And Books.

It turns out that having a blog in a time-zone of its own means that the owner of the blog can't see it! I find I can post to the blog, and I can receive comments (because I get them as e-mail) but I can't see any developments more recent than the Niagara Falls post when I call up the blog.

Ah well. Maybe it'll pass off.

I am currently inundated with reading material. I have been forgetting to post about the several books I've been reading in the past week -- I often read in floods or droughts -- and it's been a flood, recently. I had two books with me on the flight, GENOME (which brings to mind a possible satirical companion volume called Three Men In A Zygote by Genome K. Genome) by Matt Ridley and A TOUR OF THE CALCULUS by David Berlinski. I was enjoying the first one and really disliking the second one -- but struggling with it anyway because I have always wanted to 'do' the calculus, but lacked the necessary software (I think it's called MyBrain) -- when I was totally derailed by a book that I'd read a review for but been unable to find in Indian bookshops, called PRETTY GIRL IN CRIMSON ROSE (8) by Sandy Balfour.

Okay, I've got to start a new paragraph for this one. I have always been a crossword fancier. I'm not particularly gifted at doing them, but when I find a good series, and when they appear in the daily paper I get in my house, I go at 'em for months. Recently, it was the New York Times crossword, which appears in the Asian Age. What especially thrilled me about doing the NYT puzzles is that for all these years, I had shunned American x-words coz I believed they were boringly prosaic, compared to the English 'cryptic' puzzles which in India pretty much define the genre. It was only in the past year, doing the NYT puzzles that I suddenly became aware of the other levels at which a crossword can challenge one, in particular the NYT Sunday puzzles. For those of you who like puzzles, and especially those of you who have never done American puzzles fearing that they lack depth and vigour, believe me: the Sunday puzzles are in a class of their own.

Okay, so the reason I'm wittering on about crossword puzzles is that Balfour's book is that most delightful thing -- for puzzle-doers anyway -- because it is an autobiography-cum-puzzle-appreciation course! It is a charming, amusing, enlightening piece of work, short enough that it doesn't become tedious, long enough to give the reader a powerful insight into what it's like to grow up as an ex-pat Englishman in South Africa, find the love of your life early enough that you (and she) are never lonely, and to spend the rest of your life travelling the world as a journalist and free-lancing political commentator (I'm paraphrasing a lot of material here -- he probably would describe himself differently). The title of the book, for instance, is a crossword clue ...

My sister had this book waiting for me when I got to her place, because I'd talked about it to her some months ago -- she also had the puzzle at the end of the book ready for us to struggle over, which was fun. So far, aside from my father, I've been the only crossword puzzler in the family and it's really cool to have a sister on board too now! Balfour, incidently, is of course of the cryptic persuasion -- and though he remarks upon the NYT 'swords, he hasn't succumbed to them. Ah well. Can't be all things to all people, I guess!

Next on the list: a great, great book for animal lovers called BECOMING A TIGER-- How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild, by Susan McCarthy. One of the anecdotes I read in this books is so astounding that I still gasp when I think of it: at a dolphinarium where visitors could go up to a viewing window to watch the mammals frolicking underwater, a young dolphin was close to the window and staring fascinated from it at a human visitor who happened to be smoking. According to this book, she watched for a few minutes, then sped back to her mother who was close by. The young dolphin, who was still suckling, grabbed a sip of milk from her mother, then sped back to the viewing window and blew out a cloud of milk to simulate the smoker's smoke! Is this flabbergasting or what? I haven't finished the book, and left my sister's copy behind because it was too big for my backpack. I plan to get my own copy here in NYC.

Okay, NEXT BOOK! It's actually two books -- PERSEPOLIS and PERSEPOLIS 2, both by Marjane Satrapi, wonderful, poignant graphic autobiogs. Think MAUS, but in an idiom all her own, and about growing up in Iran during the revolution that deposed the Shah and dragged a modern nation back into the middle ages. Very briefly, I lived in Iran as a child, when my father was the Indian Ambassador there. It was during the Shah's regime -- at the height of it, actually, because he held his wildly extravagant celebration of 2500 years of the Pahlavi Dynasty while my father was there -- and I have only pleasurable memories of Iran. So it is with sober remembrance that I read these books (still reading them -- I like to savour several books at once). The drawings are b/w and very striking. The author's childhood was obviously a highly specialized one, as her parents were intellectuals and politically charged, willing to expose their daughter to every freedom the mind is capable of. One of the effects these books have is to remind us -- in case we needed reminding, Hurree, I say with a wink towards you -- that there are many more ways of being an Oriental than our reading lists would (typically) allow us to believe. The second book has only recently appeared on the market, so it was a thrill to catch up with it.

And now to the final book on my list -- this was a huge (pun intended, the book is a major doorstopper) kick for me -- it's called JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL by Suzanna Clarke. And the reason it was a kick for me to get it is that just yesterday, in the morning, I happened to dip idly into a month-old issue of the NYT Sunday Magazine. In it, I read (rather enviously, I will admit!) an interview brimming with barely suppressed admiration with the author, whose first novel this is -- a first novel that has a print run of 250,000 in hardback and an international release (17 languages, I think ...) and is about -- hold your breath -- magic! Yes, it is an 800-page book about two English magicians locked in battle over the heart of Supernature (in England).

I didn't pay attention to the release date, but assumed it wasn't on the market yet. Then late in the evening, I gave in to an urge to leap up and rush across to the nearest Barnes & Noble -- 12 blocks away and a bit of a jog, because the store locator warned me that the shop is only open 8 to 8 and it was already 7.20 when I started. My intention was only to buy the Persepolis books and maybe the Animals book, if I found it easily. Imagine then my delight to suddenly, and with no prior expectation, find the Clarke book! The desk-clerk had just made a '15-minute closing' announcement when I spotted the thing, so I just grabbed it, paid for it and the Persepolis books and ran out with a huge grin on my face. I started reading it last night and I can tell you right away, it is to DIE for. No, no -- forget poor H. Potter! THIS book is beautifully written.

If I were a conscientious blogger, I would be posting links and such. But I am not only not conscientious, but am annoyed that I can't actually view my posts, so I'm going to leave the hardwork of chasing up links to other, more able and more energetic souls. Go to it, friends! There are many new worlds to conquer.


Marginalien said...

Oh cool! Finally I can see my own posts again! Dunno what did it. But anyway, now I and the posts are in the same time zone again (earlier, I maintained this computer on Indian time coz it made it easier to post messages home. No need to grind all those tiny mental gears to add 10.5 hrs ... but it was starting cause the tiny mental gears of various web-sites to jam up. So I have 'normalized' and am now on NYC time). I cleared out all my cookies tho, so perhaps the gremlin got dislodged.

Hurree said...

Might not have been the Cookie Monster at work; Blogger had some kind of slowdown this week and we all had this blip where posts/ comments weren't displaying. Seems to have been fixed now.
I WAS hoping you'd have a good trip all the way through the Niagara Falls post, through the crossword bit, and right up to the point you mentioned getting your hands on Susanna Clarke's book. That's when I stopped wishing you anything at all and retreated huffily muttering to myself, "Damn damn damn DARN! (NOTE: I was educated at a convent. Some of what those nuns do to you stick, at least in terms of "bad" language.) She has the book and I don't, she's reading it and I amn't."
Ah well. Tell me what it's like or I'll have to send you over the Falls again, in a barrel and without the poncho.

Marginalien said...

BIG GRIN on me face!! Yessum, I yam feeling like de cat what got de chinchilla! The Clarke book is a major thrill. Currently I am enjoying it, but will report on whether or not I will enjoy it all the way through. It's appallingly big - 800 pages -- and it feels every bit as long as the ten years it took to write.

Ah so the blog-gremlin was not for me alone? Good to hear that. I was starting to feel distinctly unloved. Hokay, onward, onward ... and thanx for dropping by.