Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top 10 books of 2008

New york times lists the top 10 books of 2008 in the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories
Visit this link for details -

Here are the titles -
(In the fiction category, I wonder why "The White Tiger" didnt make it to the list, but "Unaccustomed Earth" is one among the 5...)

1.Dangerous Laughter - Steven Millhauser
2. A Mercy - Toni Morrison
3. Netherland - Joseph O'Neill
4. 2666 - Roberto BolaƱo
5. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri

1. The Dark Side - Jane Mayer.
2. The Forever War - Dexter Filkins
3. Nothing to be frightened of - Julian Barnes
4. This Republic of Suffering - Drew Gilpin Faust
5. The World is what it is - Patrick French

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Interview with Diana Spechler : Author of Who By Fire

I got to know about 'Who By Fire' when I read a review of it on Ramya's Bookshelf. The book caught my attention immediately and I read up a lot more reviews of it on the network of book blogs that I regularly follow. There was something about this book that seemed quite interesting to me at the very first go and made me want to read it. I am still eagerly looking to get a copy of it.

I have always wanted to get to know the author better before I read the book. I personally feel, knowing the author and the thoughts that went behind writing the book gives you a totally different perspective when you read it... Incidentally I got in touch with Diana Spechler, the author of 'Who By Fire' and she was very kind enough to spare some time to answer all my questions. Thanks again Diana!!

(Photos from author's website)

Here's an excerpt of the interview that I wanted to share with all you readers. I hope this helps you to get to know her better, get some tips on writing, and may be even make u want to grab this book! :)

Me: What inspired you to write your first book, Who By Fire? How did you get the idea for the story and the characters? Is it drawn from any experiences of someone you know? If so, how much of the book is realistic?
DS: It’s made up, but I have spent a lot of time in Israel, so I was able to draw on those experiences. I wrote a story about the characters from Who By Fire when I was a grad student. When I graduated, I returned to the story and fleshed it out into a novel. It took four and a half years

Me: After reading multiple reviews and the excerpt of your book, I am very eager to know what made you choose the title “Who By Fire” and also how did you come up with the cover page?
DS: The title comes from a Jewish prayer that includes a litany of ways a person might die: “…who by fire, who by water,” etc. I love that prayer. It’s so haunting. As for the cover, my publisher sent me four choices. The one I picked was by far my favorite.

Me:The story of “Who By Fire” does seem like something that can have a huge impact on the readers. The multiple reviews of the book on the internet and book blogs bear testimony to this fact. Is there any specific message in your novel that you want the readers to grasp?
DS:I’m not looking to send a message. I do hope people like the book and want to read more of my work. If I could inject a subliminal message into the pages, it would be, “You love Diana Spechler’s writing.”

Me: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book, Who By Fire?’
DS: I can’t even think about that. Okay, obviously I think about it. I try not to look at the book too often. If I do, I find things I’d like to change. I spent so much time rewriting (writing is mostly rewriting), so looking at Who By Fire and thinking of ways to change it became a habit I have yet to break.

Me: Based on the reviews and feedback that you have received for your book, do you feel you have been able to influence and connect well with the readers?
DS: I am overjoyed that people like the book. Before it came out, I had nightmares about bad reviews. Then the reviews were glowing, almost across the board. It was mind-blowing. It was like being in high school and finding out that every hot guy in my class had a crush on me. Which never happened. I’m just saying.

Me: What was the hardest part of writing Who By Fire? Did you face any significant challenges?
DS: Plot! It took me forever to come up with a plot! Plot always comes last for me. Characters come first.

Me: When and why did you begin writing? Did you always dream of becoming a writer someday or did it just happen in the due course of life?
DS: Becoming a writer isn’t one of those things that “just happens.” It takes a lot of work and self-discipline. But I never wanted to do anything else. Writing was always the thing I loved best. I’ve been doing it since I could pick up a pencil. So in a way, becoming a writer was natural, but mostly, it was grueling. If you want to be a writer—like really be a writer—you have to thicken your skin and understand that you are going to face a ton of rejection

Me: Being a writer yourself, I am curious to know what kind of books/authors have influenced the most in your life and, why?
DS: It’s hard to say and it changes all the time, but a few authors that I know impacted me were Joy Williams, Raymond Carver, and J.D. Salinger. When I discovered those writers, I recognized a simplicity (which is actually far from simple to craft) that I wanted to emulate. I studied their fiction carefully to figure out how they did what they did. Of course, you can study someone’s writing forever and never quite figure it out. There’s no formula.

Me: Have you read Indian Fiction? If yes, what are your thoughts on it? If not, is there any specific reason that you haven’t felt like reading it till now? Who is your favorite Indian author?
DS: India has produced many great fiction writers. My favorite is probably Jhumpa Lahiri.

Me: There is a lot of fresh talent emerging these days, with a new book on shelves every couple of weeks. Are there any new authors that have caught your interest?
DS: I am partial to contemporary fiction. I love Curtis Sittenfeld, Rebecca Curtis, Katherine Taylor, and Aryn Kyle, to name a few.

Me: Are you working on your next book already? What should your readers expect from you?
DS: Yes. I’m writing a novel set at a weight-loss camp for children in the mountains of North Carolina.

Me: Every writer at some point experiences a ‘writer’s block’. Have you ever been through that phase? If so, how did you overcome it?
DS: Writer’s block is a real thing. It’s awful. Like blue balls. From what I hear. I like to read good fiction to pull myself out of it. But it doesn’t always work. One time, I had writer’s block for almost a year. I was going through a lot of life changes and I just couldn’t concentrate. I mean, I wrote, but I wrote very little of substance, and I was constantly frustrated.

Me: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers who are planning to pick a copy of this book (including me :-)) ?
DS: Get in touch and let me know what you think!

Me: I wish to be a writer someday. Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? Do you feel it is a skill that can be acquired or is it that some people are just gifted with the talent?
DS: I think you have to have talent, but that’s just the first step. A lot of people have talent. The ones who take it to the next level are the ones who are willing to do the work.

Me: What other things in life interest you? What do you usually like to do when you're not writing?
DS: I love the people in my life. I spend a lot of time with my friends. I also love Bikram yoga. And of course, I love to read.

Me: Who critics your writing?
DS: I have a few friends who are also professional writers who read my work for me. I don't know what I would do without them. They help me so much, and they have saved me a lot of embarrassment!

Me: What was the best piece of advice you've received with respect to writing?
DS: Write every day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The White Tiger

Author: Aravind Adiga
Pages: 321
My Rating: 4.5/5

This book, the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008 had generated a lot of curiosity among the readers and I was eagerly waiting to get a hand on it too; wanted to figure out if it was just a hype or there was really some substance in it, worthy of the prize. I picked it up in Dec'08 and nearly took a month to finish because of the hectic work schedule, but if I count the actual number of days I read the book, I have probably taken about 4-5 days...

In this debut novel, Aravind Adiga explores the hefty issue of India's class struggles - the unhappy division of the social classes; the social & economic inequalities of the rich and the poor. The plot centers around Balram Halwai, who is born and raised in a remote village in north india which is completely controlled by feudal lords. He finally moves to Delhi as a driver to one of the rich landlord's sons - Ashok, who has returned from America. This is where Balram gets exposed to a completely new set of people, lifestyle, customs etc. and decides that he is not going to live his entire life being a servant. He develops a strong ambition to break out of the 'rooster coop' (the phrase is used as a metaphor by the author thru out the book) and become the white tiger - a symbol of power, individualism & freedom.

After reading the book, I feel it so totally deserved the booker prize. First of all, I loved Adiga's style of writing. Novels which deal with socio-economic inequalities can really get lengthy and boring, but Adiga chose to present it in a totally different style - a way in which the protagonist is narrating his story to the President of China who is in search of Indian entrepreneurs, in the form of letters. Secondly, Adiga has not just accumulated details of suffering or facts in the novel but he has explained it in a very compelling way by creating two disparate worlds that Balram lives in - one in the darkness of his native village and the other is his glittery life in Delhi. He also does present a beautiful contrast between the life in delhi and bangalore, when Balram escapes from Delhi after murdering his master, and becomes and entrepreneur in bangalore (This is not a spoiler, btw :) )

Last but not the least, the view of India presented by Adiga is obivously just one of them. There are many more alternate views of India which are unheard or uncontacted. He does look like a promising author and I am eagerly waiting to read his next book!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Change of look..

Had to change the template of this blog again 'coz the tabbed template refused to load all of a sudden :( So I chose a very simple 3 column template this time around and saved myself some time! I love this coffee template though :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 - Round up

Just compiling a list of all the books that I managed to read in 2008. My target was to read about 25 but this is what I finally managed! Still...not bad I guess :)

1. The Inscrutable Americans - Anurag Mathur
2. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
3. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid
4. Sister of my heart - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
5. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
6. The Bastard of Istanbul - Elif Shafak
7. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
8. Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov
9. In the Country of Men - Hisham Matar
10.The Last Lecture- Randy Pausch
11. AIDS Sutra - Anthology (Multiple Authors)
12. Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Adichie
13. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
14. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adamas
15. After Dark - Haruki Murakami