Sweet Bean Paste

Durian Sukegawa has a deep message to convey in his short and sweet book titled Sweet Bean Paste. Durian and Viktor Frankl should be invited to debate the meaning of life. And I will be the only audience 🙂 perhaps !

Their motions are conflicting. But insightful, nevertheless. Whether we are born to find purpose in serving the society, or to merely observe and experience, one thing is true, there is no such thing as one universal truth. Truth is what we seek for ourselves. How we justify our existence is up to us. But these two authors and their stories are a great way to explore the subtle similarities in their goals and the positivity with which they approach suffering .

Start to finish in 12 hours, with a 8 hour sleep cycle in the middle, Sweet Bean Paste is not Murakami’esque. But delightful in its own way. Happy to lend 🙂

Books vs Books

It had been a while since I had held a real book in my hands. And so on our way back from groceries and other errands, Agam and I took a bookshop break. I love how we have our own preferences when it comes to where to buy books and yet as luck may have it, there is a nook in downtown Mountain View that serves both of ours desires. I like browsing at Books Inc. The store owner is a warm and loving old lady who always wears a charming smile. Agam on the other hand likes browsing at the used books store next door. I have nothing against used books. I just don’t like reading them. Simply said, I don’t like a book that has changed many hands because I never feel that is really mine. It carries the smell, emotions and sometimes expressions of all those who have read it. Anyways, the good thing is that these two stores are right next to each other, making it convenient for both of us to browse to our heart’s content.

As I was browsing books at Books Inc. today, I felt a weird sense of melancholia. I realized how little I have read. How much more there is out there to read, experience and absorb! I also realized how limited I have been in my reading, focusing on a limited set of topics that interest me. It was then that I decided to gift myself three random books for my birthday. 

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Twenty-four Stories is the first one. I have only heard of Murukami from Agam. And I think someone did post a comment on this blog related to him. Regardless, I read the first story and I was surprisingly charmed by the style of writing. I also picked up a novel by Ann Patchett, Bel Canto. Again, I have only heard of Ann and have not read anything else by her. And third, I picked up Martha Stewart’s light cooking. It has recipes by season. Now how cool is that!

Looking forward to reading these on my train rides. 

First from the new place…

This morning I came over to our new home to spend some time with our paint contractor Choo. But the sun soaked patio was so tempting, that I stayed back, and here I am in our backyard, using Google Wi-Fi and writing my first blog post from 148 Granada Drive. It all still feels like a dream!  
Over the years I have developed many bad habits. A cup of coffee to kick start my day is my favorite one. My second favorite is to look for a good piece of writing before starting work. It should be simple, honest and preferably inconclusive. It should not be discursive or pretentious. A piece of writing that leaves some space for me to dream or explore, depending on the topic.
Most mornings I spend at least 20 minutes looking for the right piece. I have discovered some sources over the years that never disappoint me. And some I pick up from conversations with my father-in-law. And then there are days when I get up and the first thing I pick is the perfect read. It is as if the universe conspired to pick the right thing to present to me, first things this morning. And when this happens, I know the day is going to be just perfect.
Today was one of those days. A perfect read, a sumptuous breakfast, an indulgent stroll down to the farmer’s market, a quick shopping trip to buy some kitchenware and finally a few hours in my new backyard! This day has already redeemed itself for me. Whatever happens next is just a bonus!

Book Review : Elif Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love

Elif Shafak’s “The forty rules of love”, is an engaging novel that will be much liked by people who love reading books set against the backdrop of 13th century Middle Eastern history. I do think she could have gone with a better name for this charming piece of factual fiction. For I know some people who will not even consider a book with a name as clichéd as this.
Unfortunately, I feel that the word “love” is stained by the acts of our generation. It is marked with impressions made by umpteen romantic novels, chick flick movies and other advertising gimmicks. We forget that love is not an emotion to be glorified, but an ability to become skilled at. Some moons ago I got stuck with this notion in my head that love is an ability, and I have not found another befitting definition as of yet.
Take for example the movie – Crazy Stupid Love. I myself turned the movie down thinking oh it is going to be another stupid chick flick wrapped around the notions of love that don’t exist in reality. Just “Crazy Stupid”, might have made me consider the movie, but the addition of the four letter word at the end took it all away. In fact I wonder if for some of us love has become the “other” four letter word.
 I used to be an ardent Nicholas Sparks fan for my adolescent years. But as I grew up I started detesting the idea of romantic novels. Simply because I was experiencing love myself and it was nowhere close to be as glorifying as it was depicted in these novels. The idea of “being one”, did not resonate well with the agony of long distance relationship and the friction of two strong I’s that needed to be pacified while growing in a relationship.
Nevertheless, I have always been fascinated by poets. Oscar Wilde, Kabeer, Rumi, and for that matter Gulzar. What fascinates me is their ability to take a moment and freeze it in a medium so flexible and easy to comprehend, such that no matter where you are, and what language you read it in, you live the moment in its true essence. Just because I cannot read Persian, it does not mean that Rumi’s words mean less to me in their English translations. It is like photography in many respects. Thus my interest in The Forty Rules of Love.
First there is a book within this book. That is a difficult synchronization to orchestrate, but Elif does a stupendous job at it. She sets forth a sort of a trance in which the reader flips back and forth from 13th century Turkey to 21st century Massachusetts. I don’t want to give away any details of the book in this review. It is not a love story, though it tries to be one at times. It is not a religious text, though the forty rules can be used as a good moral reference from time to time. It is simply a beautiful orchestration of two stories that overlap in theme and essence.
This book reminds you that in life, you sometimes become stale and grounded, and there comes a ‘Shams of Tabriz’, or a friend, or a companion, who acts like a catalyst between you and your destiny. The Shams is not there to stay.  In fact you will yourself eliminate the Shams from your life, once you meet your destiny. The Shams is just an enabler, who acts like a mirror for you. It helps you complete yourself because it shows you what you lack. It does not tell you how to act, or guide you on the way; it simply makes you “aware” of what you are missing. And that awareness stirs the stale state and lifts you from being alive to start living. We all have such Shams in our lives. Sometimes you find one, and sometimes they find you.
If it was not for Shams of Tabriz, then we would have simply remembered Rumi as the scholar. Rumi’s poetic self was brought to light by him – an enabler of change and awareness.
Read this book if you want to reconnect with the older, more pure notion of love. I will be happy to lend.


Books Have Many Futures

We all saw this coming – it is now in our face 😦


Books Have Many Futures
by Linton Weeks

NPR – August 20, 2010

The premise of Lane Smith's new work for children, It’s a Book, is simple: Books are under siege.

On the first page a donkey asks a monkey, “What do you have there?” The monkey replies: “It’s a book.”

“How do you scroll down?” the donkey asks. “Do you blog with it?”

Then he asks: “Where’s your mouse? … Can you make characters fight? … Can it text? … Tweet? … Wi-Fi? … Can it do this? TOOT!”

No, the monkey repeatedly replies. “It’s a book.”

Smith's book, in stores this month, may be an example of a dying breed. A book, published — and meant to be read — on paper.

People have been talking about “the death of the book” for more than a decade. But recent events suggest the end may be imminent for bound-paper books as we have known them for more than 500 years. Hardbound and paperback books may never totally disappear, but they could become scary scarce — like eight-track tapes, typewriters and wooden tennis rackets.

In July, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos announced that his customers now buy more digital versions of stories — designed for Amazon's proprietary reading tablet, the Kindle — than they do hardcover books. That is an astonishing fact, Bezos said, “when you consider that we've been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”

The MIT futurist Nicholas Negroponte told the Techonomy Conference in early August that the physical, paper-based book is dying rapidly and will soon be replaced as the dominant form. “It’s happening,” Negroponte said. “It's not happening in 10 years. It's happening in five years.”

Writing about the fact that the behemoth bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has put itself up for sale, The Economist of Aug. 5 noted that the future of books is in digital delivery, not paper-based tomes. “Bricks-and-mortar bookstores look increasingly out-dated, except as venues for leisurely coffee and book signings,” according to the magazine. “Whoever ends up owning Barnes & Noble faces a tough task: adapt to the Brave New World, or be consigned to the History section.”

Also in August, blogger Peter Cochrane wrote on the business technology site Silicon.com that “books have been an increasingly inconvenient luxury and soon they will be one we can no longer afford.” Even The New York Times ran a piece suggesting other uses for poised-to-be-passe books, such as secret storage compartments, artworks or stage props.

So what does all of this “death of books as we know them” talk mean for reading? For writing? For our education system? What exactly is the future of the book?

The Migration Of Books

Dan Visel, a founder of the appropriately named Institute for the Future of the Book, points out that, first of all, a “book” can mean many things: A cookbook, a comic book, a history book and an electronic book are all animals of different stripes.

“It would be a mistake to think that these various forms have a single, unified future,” Visel says. “Rather, I think it's more appropriate to say that there are futures of the book.” He sees some books, such as romances and thrillers, migrating easily to an electronic form.

Other types of books are not only meant to be read, but meant to be seen: Like when a New York subway rider whips out a copy of Going Rogue by Sarah Palin. “That sort of book largely has value as social display,” Visel says. “It's not so much an instrument of revelation, because all the revelations in that book, for example, were posted online as soon as anyone could get their hands on it.”

Textbooks, phone books and other compendiums of information could perhaps serve readers better in electronic versions. In fact, Visel says, “I think the electronic book as it's currently understood — basically a simple electronic text file — will take over a fair amount of the market that's currently served by printed books.”

There are problems, he adds. “There are severe limitations with current implementations of electronic books.” Any content that is not strictly formatted — such as poetry or illustrated books — poses problems. “There's not an easy or cost-effective way for publishers to make complex electronic books.” And there are piracy concerns as more books zoom around the Internet.

Savvy publishers, he says, “should be establishing themselves as brands or curators.” And they “could be in the business of providing community to the readers: allowing readers to have conversations with authors or like-minded readers.”

A Story, Well-Crafted

Long the building blocks of academia, textbooks are seen more as albatross and less as asset these days. They are expensive — some costing more than $300. They are quickly outdated. They can be so heavy that students and teachers are forced to tote them around in wheeled luggage carts.

Students, professors and universities are rebelling against the weighty — and wasteful — tomes. Stanford University's brand new physics and engineering library is advertised as “bookless”; relying almost solely on digital material. Free and downloadable textbooks are at the heart of the growing “open educational resources” movement that seeks to make education more available and more affordable. Groups such as Connexions at Rice University and the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources in Silicon Valley are supporting free online textbook initiatives.

As a result, more and more textbooks — and books of all kinds — will be more up to date and content-rich, stretching beyond words on a page to incorporate changing visuals, interactive possibilities and motion pictures and sound.

Writers and editors are being challenged to find new and creative ways to tell stories. “In the academic world,” says Visel of the Institute for the Future of the Book, “there's a building consensus that video games are the next big narrative form; there are an increasing number of games studies programs. I'm not a gamer, and not particularly convinced of their artistic value; but the argument could certainly be made that one of the futures of the book — particularly the future of the desire for entertainment, which was first taken from the book by film and then by television — has moved on to the game world.”

In Lane Smith's children's book, the power of the story (in this case Treasure Island) and the human imagination — and the bound-paper book — prevail. But when illustrator and writer Smith is asked whether he is intrigued by the opportunity to explore new ways to create stories, including digital possibilities that might include movement and sound and interactivity, he says, “Absolutely. I am working on some ideas right now. I'm a fan of animation as well as books and can definitely see the potential for melding the two. And not in a CD-ROM way where you click on a character and he does a little dance or makes a noise but with images that truly propel the story with movement.”

And could it be that there are new forms of storytelling out there — video games, interactive multi-user dungeons, role-playing games — that we are just beginning to explore? In the same way we moved from Homeric recitations to books, could we now be moving from books to shared, multi-narrator stories? “Perhaps,” Smith says. “However, I'm not much of a gamer and am certainly not a dungeon master. I'm kind of Old School. … I enjoy the passive experience of a story, well-crafted, told to me.” [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]

To learn more about the NPR iPad app, go to http://ipad.npr.org/recommendnprforipad

To read perchance to dream

As a child I did not read much. Reading back then, was limited to the tomes of textbooks that every Indian adolescent had to deal with – whether they liked it or not. Summer vacation library membership was my only other source of reading. In those times, I never felt like asking my parents for Rs.100, so I can buy a book. But as soon as I finished school, I decided to pursue it more rigorously. I started with a few books that I bought off the streets in Vasant Lok in Delhi, and exchanged them with my peers in the hostel. The college library hardly carried any interesting content. But even then I was never deprived of content to read.
My reading picked momentum in college, but it was only after I moved to US that I got obsessed with it. I realized that I could buy books off half.com for as low a $1 !! And if I buy more books from the same seller – then I pay a standard price for shipping. Believe me – the day I realized this magic – my happiness had no bounds. I saved every penny and dime and made a monthly budget to buy books – in school my budget was limited to $10 and now it is sort of unlimited – as long as I am using a coupon from Borders/Barnes and Nobles.
 I have patterns in my readings. I cruise through multiple authors – pick one that I enjoy – read his entire collection. When I am saturated, I start my hunt again. I am not into classics, but I draw parallels between classics and contemporary literature whenever I find an opportunity. I also take book suggestions very seriously. I always have a wish list running on Amazon.com, full of books recommended by peers, friends and professors.
I am one of those readers who seek a relationship with the book. Hence the concept of library is not appealing to me. The book has changed so many hands, emotions, feelings and glances – the thought disturbs my mind. I want my book to be mine – I shall choose who gets to read it. And I shall care for them – almost like a piece of jewelry. I have often dreamt of owning a house, where there is one room – just for books, with a rocking chair and a lamp. I like reading everything and anything.  I secretly hate the iPad, Kindles and the Nooks – I am worried that they will take away my books from me some day. I hope I am dead before that happens.
I could not have a married a man who does not read. So I am glad, he is my reading companion. A human is incomplete if he/she does not read. There are many lives to live many roles to play –just through these books.
Why this long note on books and reading- coz yesterday I bought one after 4 months. I am reading J.M.Coetzee’s Disgrace. It is very engaging. Looking forward to read more of his works.
Happy Reading!

Book Review : Disgrace

I just finished reading a powerful novel by J.M.Coetzee – Disgrace. The novel won a nobel prize in literature – and I am not surprised why. It is a short 215 paged novel, packed with lyrical descriptions and commentary on current rural Africa paired with some contrast drawn to the modern day urban Africa. The plot is layered. Stories are built upon each other, but with minimal overlaps in plot. But there is a coherence in the theme that weaves all these incidents and happenings in one strong and compelling tale. 
It seems as if this author really wants you to enjoy the plot, and does not take a lot of time in detailing the characters. I find such cut to the chase novels extremely engaging. Hence a bias towards Disgrace. The other novel I am reading right now is Winner Stands Alone, by Paulo Coelho – and as we all know Paulo is extremely good at making his characters come alive in your mind, as you read about them. Quite contrasting to Coetzee.