Brighten Your Day: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have just finished this book, and I am really glad that I am outside my house, because otherwise I would be bursting out in tears (which really wouldn’t be a bad thing). The review says that it is the most heart warming thing you will read and it really is. I had an issue when starting the book. The plot line was a little slow in the beginning or maybe it was just that my 20s mind was not interested in the life of a grumpy, angry at the world old man.

But then I got to know about the wife, and everything changed. There are very few books that make you feel like there’s warm chocolate melting inside your heart, like it’s snowing outside, and you are snuggled in the warmest blanket. You can see the cold world, but you also are safe because of the blanket. This book is like that blanket. The story is of a man called Ove (naturally), who is nearing the end of his time in the world, physically and psychologically. After the death of his wife, Ove has lost any reason to live in this world, and is trying to kill himself, and meet up with his wife Sonja in the next world. All his attempts to die turn futile when Parvaneh, a 30-year old pregnant woman moves into his neighborhood with her husband and two daughters.

The narration is the most beautiful part of the story. Backman weaves it like threads on a hand loom, slowly, steadily, and with care, and when the pattern arises, you don’t even realize that this was the place you were being led to, and that makes it even more special. The characters in the story are complicated, especially Ove himself, but you fall in love with all of them slowly, and that is I believe the intention of the author – to make them yours slowly, and then all at once (just like John Green said). Sonja, though, is one character you fall in love with instantaneously.

The story oscillates between past and present, and both are equally beautiful to read. Ove’s relationship with everyone, starting from his father, to Parvaneh’s eldest daughter is explored, and you witness how the relationships grow, and along with them Ove grows as you move forward in the story. Sonja, Ove, and Parvaneh’s relationship reminds me so much of Up. In a way it is like Up, but way more, more, more.

Love is a strange thing. It takes you by surprise.

Many, many times this book took me by surprise, not only because of everything in it – the story, the characters, their emotions, but also because of how I was feeling and responding to it. I had tears (both happy and sad) so many times throughout the book. It is a beautiful book, talking about a way of life that is not there anymore. In all honesty, you might not be able to live in a world where every person was like Ove, but trust me, you cannot live in a world either where there not at least some people like Ove.

I realized that it is a fairly less known book (after its initial success), mostly because it’s originally written in Swedish (I just realized if the translation is this good, how awesome would the original be), but it is definitely worth everyone’s time and money, especially in the times that we are living in. This book brightened my days, and I am fairly sure it will brighten your days too if you give it a chance.

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An Absolutely Remarkable Book: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was probably the most awaited book of the year for me, so much so that I had a signed copy shipped from Canada, and in no way did this book disappoint me. In fact, it might be unlike anything I have ever read (I haven’t read that many books, but still!).

April May, an ordinary 23 year old New York graphic designer/artist becomes an Internet celebrity overnight when she discovers gigantic robot like structures just standing on the street while coming back from work late one night, and decides to shoot and upload a video with “Carl” as she names the robot. What follows is a recipe that tastes absolutely heavenly, but looks absolutely disgusting to someone who hasn’t tasted it. April becomes the center of the world for a duration of time, and as with every person who has ever achieved world-wide fame, she gets her share of love and hate.

The biggest highlight of the book is the story itself. It is so amazingly creative, and fresh. Sure, there have been mysteries written before, but Green combines his love of the digital world and science fiction so seamlessly that it becomes a delight to read. There are places where you are almost awestruck by the depth of his imagination, and left wondering – “Is there even more than this?” Green has taken a lot of stuff and inspiration from his own life, and brought it to fiction in this work. Even John’s words that “Hank has a thing for turning everything into money” comes into play many times.

Apart from the sci-fi and the alien angle, the book also explores the experiences and challenges that come with being a celebrity and how people deal with them. Different characters in the book deal with it differently, but as it is a first-person narration by April, we get her side of the story the most.

She’s brutally honest, and that is how you get to know how terrible a person she is. It is a completely, absolutely flawed character that has you pulling out your hair at times, and wanting to shake her awake from her self-centeredness most of the times. I am not sure if the fact that she is aware of all this, and admits it on more than one occasion makes it better or worse. But you don’t doubt even more a moment that people cannot be like this because she is original (in fact, like many people you would have come across in your lifetimes), and she gives you a little bit of glimpse into yourself as well. She might be frustrating, and imperfect, but April May is an original heroine (and that saddens me because honestly I want people, including myself to be better than that). Despite (or in spite of) her flaws, April works to bring people together, and unite them, and try and show the better side of the humans, and to a certain extent she does succeed in her purpose. And honestly, the story is so good, I am pretty sure a goody-two shoes heroine would not have had the same effect. Plus I am sure there’s a reason April is, well, April (and the chosen one), and we will probably get to know that in the next book.

The book is Green’s first attempt at writing and it almost makes you think how unfair it is that he is so good at everything even on his first attempts (I know he must have put in a lot of hard work into this and everything else, but still!). The plot lines do jump from one to another at some places, making you feel a little disconnected, but in the bigger scheme of things that is completely avoidable. There are several small references to Green’s brother’s John’s books, which might be a complete coincidence as well, but the intentional angle makes me feel better, so I will go with that. I cannot talk about the actual story much because basically everything in the plot is a spoiler and it’s difficult to talk about any thread without revealing a thing or two.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is actually, 97%, an absolutely remarkable thing to read, and is going to make lots of fans and readers across the world very happy, and leave them (just like me) extremely excited for the next part.

Update: To Hank Green (if he ever reads this, in like a thousand years), the end paragraph was unnecessarily creepy, but totally worth it!

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

⭐⭐★★★

This is going to be a short review, mostly because I am at a loss for words. After a glorious 3 book 5-star streak, my happiness had to end somewhere. And it ended at the sea. I read this book for two reasons – 1. I am slowly trying to go through my owned and to-read pile on Goodreads, and forbidding myself to buy more books until that is done, and 2. Because it was short and intrigued me. Almost every friend of mine who had read this, had rated it 4 and above, and were in general impressed by it. So I gave it a go. Needless to say it did not end well.

I really, really did not get the message of the book. So I went through other readings, reviews, and citations to understand and bring myself to the epiphany that apparently this book is, but unfortunately, I could not. From the get go, nothing made sense to me. The book is a narration of a fisherman who is having a bad luck, having gone 84 days at he sea without catching a fish, and how on the 85th day (that stretches to 87th day), he hooks a huge one, which carries him across the sea, but by the time he is able to kill it and get it back, the fish is attacked by shark, and there is not much left of the beautiful creature the fisherman caught.

There are no metaphors, no musings, no philosophical discussion. Most of the book is a monologue by the old man at the sea, and its a straightforward thing – what he is thinking, he is speaking – verbatim. The only thing that I could understand was the characters, and I liked them both – the old man and the boy. Both are representations of strong-willed, brave, and kindhearted men and that reflects in their words, as well their actions.

I am not sure if I am not smart enough to understand Pulitzer and Nobel winning books, or if there are no hidden messages in the book, and it is just a straightforward narrative of a man struggling with a huge fish in the middle of the sea, so if I speak honestly, I would not for the life of me know whether I can recommend this book that I did not get, so I would not.

Nerdland Alert: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book is all what nerd dreams are made of – a well-loved fantasy novel series, a mystery to be unfolded, a protagonist who’s not that much into books but just-you-wait, an exclusive secret society, Google, and of course books and bookstores. It is one of those books that remind you why you love reading so much, especially when you are in a slump and just cannot find the time to finish that book you started 2 months ago.

Clay is a designer in his mid-twenties, fresh out of job due to an economic slump, and looking for any way to make ends meet. And that is how he ends up working at Mr. Penumbra’s store – a shady looking, vertical, sparsely stocked with actual books, but teeming with leather-bound, code-containing books bookstore with an even more intriguing owner. The book takes us on an adventure from the time Clay steps into the store, and as things begin to unfold, you simply cannot put the book down. The characters are all super-geeky, super-nerdy people and you wish that they all were real and your best friends. They might frustrate you at times, especially when some of them are stubborn and hell-bent on their ways, but you will still like them. More the reason to fall in love with Clay and Mr. Penumbra with their understanding nature, and ability to adapt. And when Google gets into the mix with its book scanning machine, you wish you were inside the book.

The book subtly touches upon the ever going fight between books, as in paper-bound, smell like heaven, books and electronic copies and the devices that carry them. It tries to bring them together as being important and complimentary to each other, being needed for different purposes and reasons in different time, place, setting, mood. For bibliophiles, it is everything that you want. It is the right book that leaves you awing and gushing all the time.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:

A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

This is how the book leaves you, making you stop everything for a while, and just take everything that you have read all in, and think that maybe it was the right book exactly, at the right time. But I believe that this one will never fade, and that it is the right book, not matter what the time is.

Dystopian Dilemma: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

⭐⭐★★★

I first read the synopsis of this book when the television adaptation was about to be released. The synopsis made me curious, but at the same time it scared the hell out of me. Atrocities against women, no matter what the era is, fact or fiction, is always a tender wound for women, and men across the world (or so I would like to believe). I try and avoid such novels because reality is more than enough. Plus the reviews were stellar – it was definitely to be a novel that not only moves you, but at moments leaves you with a paralysis – an inability to grasp what has happened, even if within a fictional world.

My 2/5 stars would have already told you that I was a bit let down. Written in first person, “Offred” shares her tale of being a handmaid – a sort of servant whose job is to carry children for high-ranking officials whose wife cannot bear them one. It sounds like surrogacy but it isn’t as the “Commander” is supposed to impregnate her the natural way. It is as horrific as it sounds, more so, because she is not allowed any independence whatsoever – no one really is, in Atwood’s dystopian world. Written in a sort of Orwell’s 1984 style, there are “Eyes” everywhere looking for people who might betray the system the men have so carefully put in place. Women can either be Wives, Handmaids, Marthas, or Unwomen. And only the high ranking officers – the Commanders are allowed Wives, or Handmaids when need be.

The idea of such a world existing is scary and the book does that effectively. You are sucked in with the ways of the things – how atrocious and restrictive in nature they are. My issue arises with the pace and style of the book. You dive nose-first into the world of Offred, and keep going back to the world (as we know it right now – my assumption) in flashbacks. These two are fluent in the narration and the switches leave you confused. Often you are left dissatisfied as too much information is missing, and when the book ends it seems as if you are left with a puzzle where the pieces are not just missing, but misplaced. I understand that the narration is in first person, and so it tells the tale of only that person, but the protagonist not knowing much about the becoming of this society and even the fate of it in the bigger scheme of things? That is something I am not sure I feel very comfortable with.

For Offred, I certainly have mixed feelings. It is difficult to like her. You can sympathize with her situation, but it is not easy to feel any other emotion. I guess many of my disappointments with Offred come from the expectations I had set for the heroine of this novel. The only times Offred does anything expected of a protagonist, it is for a personal gain – her selfish nature is self-accepted and proclaimed in her thoughts and actions.

The Handmaid’s Tale is revered as a classic by many. Written in 1965, it does stretch the boundaries of imagination, and maybe talks about a reality that might happen if we are not careful enough (it does give ideas to people). As awed as I was by the imagination of the author, I was disappointed in the writing at times, struggling to keep up with the line of thought (my flaw, maybe). It has a leisurely pace, which only picks up in the middle, and at times you get so, so, so frustrated with the narrator, you want to whack the book on her head. But it is easy to say that from this world. I guess that is why it is in first person. Our job is not to read, understand and judge, but to read, accept her flaws, and let her be, for no one is perfect, and not everyone acts same in the same situation.

Mostly Up, A Little Down: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

⭐⭐⭐⭐★

So very recently I came across one of those Tumblr posts so frequented and liked by nerds and book lovers alike, and this is what it said – “So sex and all is great, but have you ever read a book where you have to wait 35 chapters before the first kiss happens?” This is one of those books. The Upside of Unrequited is a story about Molly, one half of the Peskin-Suso twins, and self declared “fat” girl who goes through crushes like I am going through books in the past few weeks. She has had 26 of them in the 17 years of her life, and never ever acted on one. The story begins when Molly’s twin Cassie finds herself in a very real relationship with someone, bringing up Molly to face loneliness and probably the need to find love.

There a lot of ups about this book. The story is flattering to read. Molly’s character is a self-doubting, creative, complete nerd who is anti-social but tries hard for her friends’ sake, risking feeling out of place all the time. It is extremely well written, and once more I am blown away by Albertalli’s ability to express her characters. There are several issues that are seamlessly woven into the story such as how being fat should not stop you from achieving anything in your life, much less love.

The things that I do not love about this book are first, Cassie. It might be because I am not a teenager anymore or have not met someone like her but I fail to understand how can she act towards her sister like that. One day you are joined at the hip, and the next day she finds out from Facebook that you are in a relationship! So you can shout it out to the public but to your twin sister you make the excuse that it was “too important” to you so you didn’t tell her. And then when she doesn’t tell you when the same thing happens to her, you chide her? I mean that is heights of hypocrisy. Another thing that I did not hate but I thought was really overdone was the representation of homosexuality. I understand it is an issue to be brought out, and talked about and write about but it has to be done so it mixes with the plot, goes with the story. I think there was too much of that in this particular book without the need.

As several reviews before mine would have said – this is a must read. It gives you good vibes, makes you angry at the right things and the right moments, and gives you the happily ever after you need when you finish a book. But most importantly Molly seems real. Her struggle, her trials and her wanting to reach out to people (and failing to) all strike a chord with you. If you have ever been a nerd, you will find yourself at least once in the narrative. If not for anything else, read it for that.

A Funny Dish: Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna

⭐⭐⭐★★

From all the available genres of humor present out there, there is no doubt that self-depreciation works best. But that’s it really. Mrs Funnybones is sort of an autobiographical novel written by Khanna in which she takes us through the nuisances of her life as a celebrity, wife and daughter of Bollywood superstars, working mom. There are several anecdotes, stories, experiences and such scattered throughout the book, in no particular order – just an alphabetical A to Z of the titles.

What I liked most about the book is definitely the self-deprecating humor. As far as humor is concerned, Khanna knows what she’s doing (as she is already a regular columnist in one of the dailies). Her sense of humor is fresh, entertaining without offending (except at places where it’s directed home), and easy to breeze through. There might be some places when you feel that it is stretching on and on and you just really want to move on to the next one. Some of the incidents and things are almost hard to believe (in both good and bad ways), but hey, it’s her life, I am sure she knows better. The repeated name-tags, such as “man of the house”, and “the prodigal son” might also start irritating you after some time, and you would just wonder why not call them by their names! But that is mostly a personal thing I think.

Finally I believe that it’s one-sitting, one-time read which mostly works because the setup is as interesting as the story teller. One can say that it works because everyone wants to know about the life of a celebrity, especially one so closely related to the Indian film industry. But the fact of the matter is, Khanna might have gotten lucky with the ingredients, but the richness of the dish, i.e. the narration is all her, and with her palate, she would have made it tasty, no matter what the ingredients.