One More Thing

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“One More Thing: Stories and other stories” is a compilation of short stories written by B. J. Novak. Am I the only one flummoxed by his choice of name? B.J.? Over Benjamin? Sure, Benjamin is too long and doesn’t sound cool but hey, it’s Hollywood! You can make up a name and voila! You’re not B.J. anymore! Now that that’s out of my system, let’s review his book, shall we?

The first few stories were lackluster. Like someone who realizes that he’s lacking in the looks department and tries to compensate for that by trying to be funny. Unfortunately his real talent lies in coding and not humor.

B.J.’s stories try to convey irony, satire and wit. It’s full of what if’s. What if the rabbit in the story “The rabbit and the tortoise” went for a rematch? What if you went to heaven and found your grandmother performing unsavory acts? The beginning of the book didn’t grip me. Some stories made me smile faintly, some made me ponder a bit. They weren’t very good, but they weren’t that bad either.

But if you soldier on, convinced that B.J. surely must have left a gem somewhere in the book, you will find it. There were a few memorable stories. One of my favorites was “Confucius at Home” wherein the servants at Confucius’ home keep quoting every sentence spoken by him, to Confucius’ chagrin. A hungry Confucius asks his servant for noodles and the servant shouts to the cook “CONFUCIUS SAY: BRING NOODLES”. And so on. The story’s funny. Really.

Here are some more quotes:

If you love something, let it go. If you don’t love something, definitely let it go. Basically, just drop everything, who cares.

But nobody remembers how long anything takes; they only remember how good it was in the end.

All eyes are beautiful, I said, which is why it’s such an easy compliment.

Some stories are hits, and many are misses. You’ll read it, crack into a faint smile and maybe forget about it. Read the book if you’re a big fan of B.J. Novak and would like to delve into his mind. And if you’re easily impressed.

 

Rating: 6.3/ 10

Adulthood is a Myth

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My friend sent me this a few months back:

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What is this? I do not identify with this at all. Who is this messy haired girl? Nope, I do not relate. LOL JK. This is so me, I had to investigate. So I found myself on her instagram page. Have a look at it. Browse through the comments: “so me lol”. And now, we have her comics in an easy to hold, book form! Hurray!

Here’s a Sarah Andersen approved review for your perusal:

 

Rating: 7.1/ 10

 

True Grit

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You find yourself on the first page of True Grit and are welcomed by this opening paragraph:

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.

What a spunky lady! The opening passage prepares you for the woman you are about to meet. Mattie Ross, a no-nonsense, practical, smart-as-a-whip woman of fourteen who’s out to avenge her father’s death. She goes through life as if it were a series of obstacle courses that she can overcome by her intelligence and quick thinking. She never wallows in self pity and somehow doesn’t fully realize the enormity of the situations she finds herself in. And this is what makes her the heroine she is!

Sample her take on whiskey (or intoxication in general):

“I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my brains.”

Her deadpan retorts are especially funny when you imagine her in all her seriousness.

The book lays before you on a platter a generous serving of shootings, hangings and brawls with a nonchalance defying the gravity of said situations. This is a story of the Wild West that’s filled with drama, humor and a touch of romance. It’s a book for everyone, one of the best novels ever. The author, Charles Portis, is an exceptional writer.

To strengthen my case for True Grit, I present to you an excerpt from a rare review (as per this Telegraph article) by Roald Dahl:

“True Grit is the best novel to come my way for a very long time. I was going to say it was the best novel to come my way since…Then I stopped. Since what? What book has given me greater pleasure in the last five years? Or in the last 20? I do not know. I expect some have, but I cannot recall them right now. Marvellous it is. He hasn’t put a foot wrong anywhere. What a writer!”

Need I say more?

 

Recommended for: Everyone

Rating: 9.1/ 10

 

Before the Fall

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A few weeks back, I was reading the latest entry in the How I Work series in Lifehacker. I squealed with delight when I saw Mary Roach! If you don’t know her, go click on that link and we can discuss the book after. I’m not going anywhere.

I digress. Mary Roach mentioned that she was currently reading Noah Hawley’s “Before The Fall”. Who the heck is he, you may ask. He’s the guy who created and wrote the amazing television series Fargo. I would like one more serving of Noah Hawley. Yes, please.

I held the book gleefully, expecting another treasure of dark humor, wit and a few casualties. I must say that there were indeed a few casualties, then again, which book doesn’t?

The main premise of “Before the Fall” is  the crash of a private plane, aboard which were eleven people. Two survive, and the book explores the mystery behind the crash and if there’s more to it than meets the eye. Scott Burroughs, a playboy artist who’s down on his luck (who has no business to be on the private jet, thus attracting suspicion) is one of the ‘lucky’ survivors. He is initially hailed as the hero who saved the four year old boy who was in the plane with him.

The mystery unfolds with a series of flashbacks of the lives of those who were aboard the plane. The book seemed to drag on, because it isn’t entirely interesting to read about eleven people unless they’re quirky personalities with psychopathic tendencies. If I were to assign a personality to the book, it would be that of a confused millennial who’s trying to find his “most authentic” voice. On occasions, the book reads as a political drama, in others an emotional one, sometimes a thriller, with an undercurrent of a detective story. Another thing that disappointed me was that there was none of the trademark Fargo dark humor, which was the main reason I picked up the book. And the anti climatic ending felt like a practical joke that was played on the reader.

I wonder if Mary Roach is as disappointed as I am.

Rating: 6.1/10

 

 

Stranger Things

Stranger Things seems to be the new matcha tea of Instagram, everyone’s talking about it! I’m usually hesitant to hop onto bandwagons: be they TV series, movies, books. I still haven’t partaken of Game of Thrones, or The Girls (the book by Emma Cline) which cements my oddball status (which I feel is an integral part of my personality). But for some mysterious reason, I dove right into this one!

This series is set in 1983, Indiana. Essentially, the first season is about a preteen who goes missing and the rest of the series deals with searching for him. Which doesn’t seem particularly exciting.

The cast was convincing and the performance was pretty good. The kids were a pleasure to watch. Especially Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin, the boy with the lisp. Brownie points for the synth music which adds to the dangerous-mysterious-creature-on-the-prowl vibe that you get throughout the series. I’m not an 80’s kid, but it made me nostalgic for the 80’s!

It’s really hard to put my finger on why exactly I loved Stranger Things, seeing that it relied on a lot of horror tropes (flickering lights, jump scares), The Government as a Bad Man, A teenage love triangle. Would it be ditzy of me to say that I loved it because the series felt so sincere and it had a soul? I was immersed in the story, I felt like I was one of the residents of Hawkins, Indiana as opposed to a fly on the wall. It’s as if the makers want you to know that this is a cheesy science fiction drama and enjoy watching the strange creature terrify the wonderful residents of this little town. And once you watch it with that mindset, you’re in for a treat!

Rating: 7.8/10

The Arrival

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“The Arrival” is a graphic novel written by Shaun Tan. What makes this book even more interesting is that it’s devoid of words. Which is a refreshing change really, it forces you to look at the illustrations and read more into the subtle strokes of the writer’s deft pen.

The book isn’t just stripped off of words, you will find that colors are absent too. Each page is sepia toned, which makes you feel like you’re leafing through an old book handed down over the generations. Some pages look like they’re weathered by age. Have a look:

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“The Arrival” is a story of an immigrant. The places are entirely fictitious, so are the languages. So much so that everything looks other-worldly.

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You can read more about the work and the sensibility of the book here. Take a gander at his home page, it’s a fun page to poke around and discover more of his books!

 

Recommended for: fans of graphic novels and beautiful illustrations

Rating: 8.8/ 10

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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“We have always lived in the Castle” is a haunting novel written by Shirley Jackson. A sinister feeling follows you as you flip through the pages and consume the words, afraid of being poisoned by it yet strangely relishing it. Here’s the first paragraph that you encounter:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.

This is a story about the Blackwood family. Sisters Mary and Constance Blackwood live in a mansion with their Uncle Julian, isolated from society. Even if this isn’t a detective story, it felt like one where you’re trying to find out the reason for their isolation and the hostility of the villagers. It makes you question the characters, if they’re hallucinating and trying to trick you into believing their tales.

It’s hard to fit this work into any genre. There’s subtle horror, drama, suspense, philosophy, and snatches of unexpected laughs. Like real life.

The most interesting character was our little Mary, Constance’s little sister. Her mind can best be described as unapologetic and pure. Here, I interpret pure as primal, unadulterated and untouched. It’s pure like the blackness of coal, not like the whiteness of snow. A part of me rejoiced as she thought her black thoughts, as if they were voicing mine. Have you ever done that, and felt ashamed after?

I disliked having a fork pointed at me and I disliked the sound of the voice never stopping; I wished he would put food on the fork and put it into his mouth and strangle himself.

Contrast this with another thought of hers:

I was wondering about my eyes; one of my eyes–-the left–-saw everything golden and yellow and orange, and the other eye saw shades of blue and grey and green; perhaps one eye was for daylight and the other was for night. If everyone in the world saw different colors from different eyes there might be a great many new colors still to be invented.

Big sister Constance is “a charming little thing, had you not known that she was arrested for murdering her family” (but was eventually acquitted of the crime, as Uncle Julian would remind us).

Uncle Julian sprinkles unexpected humor when he “entertains guests”, irreverently addressing the family murder in polite company. Confined to the wheelchair after the incident, he obsessively makes notes of the fateful day, hoping that one day he would be able to publish it. He narrates details of that day to a very interested Mrs. Wright who comes for a tea time visit. He gleefully mentions how Constance (who loves to cook for the family) was arrested for allegedly poisoning the family by adding arsenic to the bowl of sugar.

We relied upon Constance for various small delicacies which only she could provide; I am of course not referring to arsenic

The style of writing is deceptively simple, perhaps because it is told from little sister Mary’s point of view. Surprisingly engrossing, as you find yourself trapped deeper and deeper into her tarry mind. Next on my list: The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House.

Recommended for: Gothic suspense aficionados, lovers of dark twisty stories.

Rating: 8.3/ 10