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Nepalapalooza

A fun title for what might be a not-so-fun post, or at least not the most uplifting one, but it’s the second book in the recent past I’ve read about Nepal and incidentally also the second one I’ve read by Jon Krakauer, so I thought it appropriate. Here’s my take on his book Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.

Laconic recap: This book is not for the faint of heart. Granted, Krakauer’s books aren’t on the feel-good side in general, but this one was particularly striking. It was gripping, though, at the same time, and as I read more, I really felt like time slowed down to a stop, just like it must have been on that freezing, windy night up on Mount Everest in May 1996.

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Legends of the Hidden Temple

I’ve had this one as a (misspelled) placeholder post for awhile, and in the coming weeks, I hope to go through all the ones like this that I have (and there are quite a few) and update them, so don’t be surprised if you experience some deja vu.

A few weeks ago, I finished a book I randomly selected from a shelf in the library, The Temple Goers, which is the first novel by Indian writer Aatish Taseer.

The back cover blurb is one hundred percent misleading; the event mentioned there doesn’t occur until about the last quarter of the book, and it’s not really the focus of the story. The story centers on the very unlikely friendship between returning Indian expat Aatish Taseer (no relation to the author of the book), and Aakash, a personal trainer who has some…shall we say, interesting hobbies. Aakash takes Aatish under his wing and reintroduces him to Delhi, but to a different Delhi than where the latter grew up. They go from high society parties to sordid sex dens to the eponymous temple, a portion of the book which the author describes in extreme, painstaking detail a ceremony which lasts all night. Other plot complications include Aatish’s relationship with his girlfriend Sanyogita – who’s obviously got a thing for her boyfriend’s new bro – and Sanyogita’s aunt Chamunda, a politician who allows Aatish to live in her apartment while he is in Delhi.

Overall, I would describe it as fair, maybe better than average. Some of the description is long-winded, but other parts are so delicious that I just had to put the book down and sort of fantasize. It’s less the story of Aatish than it is of the city in which he grew up, which looks completely different to him as an adult. As far as genre, it incorporates a but of magical realism, but I’d probably call it gritty neon realism, because the reader kind of feels like they spent the whole book shuffling from one crazy scenario to another, like barhopping in Cancun. The message of neocolonialism – which I didn’t even pick up on until reading some reviews, is really present; as much as the characters want to break down barriers, they are constantly putting each other in categories and on levels. In a society that is post caste-system, The Temple Goers shows that Delhi society just can’t seem to break free of classism, even if it’s not determined by outsiders.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed Taseer’s writing and I’ve already picked his next book up from the library.

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Nepal Done Right

Anyone else read Three Cups of Tea?

Wasn’t it awful?

If you didn’t like that, or if you did by some stretch of the imagination, I’d recommend my most recent read to you – Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan. 

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Basically, Grennan succeeds in all the areas Greg Mortenson doesn’t. This riveting book centers on four main events: the author’s first trip to Nepal and his stint at Little Princes Home for Boys; the author’s subsequent return and establishment of his own children’s home along with Farid, another volunteer; his journey to the rural region of Humla to find the parents of the aforementioned children; and his relationship with Liz, which is truly a love story for the ages.

The book reads very quickly. I felt like I really got to know Grennan, and appreciated his acknowledgment of his flaws and missteps, from his encounters with the authorities to his failed attempt to catch a helicopter (which frustrated me to no end). He paints Nepal neither as a spiritual mountain paradise nor as a poverty stricken slum, which feels honest. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, but they all seem distinct, especially the children.

Warning: you will tear up while reading this book.

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Blogiversary + Book Reviews!

Can’t believe I forgot about my blogiversary, which was this week. So, happy blogiversary to me! I wouldn’t be here without all those who read/follow me (1,722 and counting! Tell your friends!) so a great big thank you to all of you.

I’ve been getting quite a lot of reading done this month, in between playing apps, watching Twin Peaks, and trying to avoid any and all responsibility. I’ve actually managed to finish a grand total of 17 books. Here’s the list, and the ones in bold I will post about (or already have, so stay tuned.

  1. Gisela Konopka, Courage and Love
  2. Amulya Malladi, The Mango Season
  3. Scarlett Thomas, Bright Young Things
  4. Esme Raji Codell, Sahara Special
  5. Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
  6. Joseph Gangemi, Inamorata
  7. Catherine O’Flynn, The News Where You Are
  8. Winifred Watson, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  9. Tom Miller, The Panama Hat Trail
  10. Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven
  11. Aatish Taseer, The Temple-Goers
  12. Conor Grennan, Little Princes
  13. Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
  14. Gail Tsukiyama, A Hundred Flowers
  15. Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
  16. Madhur Jaffrey, Climbing the Mango Tress
  17. Prem Kutowaroo, In Search of Love

So, see you next month! (Which is in about five minutes.)

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Just Mormon Up

Today’s weather was so beautiful that I sat outside for around four hours, finished three books, and started two more. In all, I’ve finished 16 books so far this month, and I’ll recap some of them for you. One of my nonfiction choices for the month was Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer.

Under the Banner of Heaven contains two parallel through-lines: one, a history of the LDS Church and its various schisms and offshoots, and two, the story of the Ron and Dan Lafferty, two brothers who killed their sister-in-law Brenda and her baby daughter Erica at their home in American Fork, Utah, in 1984, based on a prophecy they received.

This book was eye-opening and hard to put down, even in some of the more boring stretches detailing the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and the like, all of whom lived more than a hundred years before the main events of the book. I preferred the chapters which were about 20th century Mormon life, like the chapters on Debbie Palmer. The author, who is Mormon himself (but not of the FLDS or Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, those who practice polygamy), really gets into the heads of the people involved and the bystanders, painting a vivid picture of the hazy events of that fateful day in 1984. In addition, he not only illuminates the life of Brenda Lafferty, who was much more courageous and wise than her situation allowed her to be, but also the Lafferty brothers, and exactly when and how things took a turn for the dark in their lives, specifically, Dan and Ron. Though what the brothers did was reprehensible and vile, Krakauer bifurcates their stories to show the different paths that led them to that point, and how the brothers changed after the brutal murders. It is interesting to get into the minds of killers, and even though their reasons are bizarre and corrupt, it’s interesting to see everything that those around them ignored. You wonder what might have happened if one of their wives or one of their accomplices had intervened and stopped it from happening – would things have settled down, or could it have possibly led to even more deaths of innocent people? Not to trivialize Brenda and Erica, and the possibilities, or sympathize with the killers, but the fact that these two brothers remained locked away in prison with their bizarre ideas left space for the rest of their family to cope and heal. People have done a lot more without being incarcerated for any significant length of time.

Overall, Under the Banner of Heaven is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re into true crime, religion, or American history, this book should definitely be at the top of your list. There is a quote in the book about the inability to write a fictional book about Mormons because their lives are strange in and of themselves, and this book is proof of that statement.

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If You Give An Italian A Typewriter…

I’ve been getting quite a bit of reading done over the past few days, and I’ve actually finished nine – count ’em – nine books this month. Not all of them were spectacular, and I won’t write reviews for all of them, especially since for a few of them I’ve forgotten a lot of key details, but one that I finished a few weeks ago and found particularly interesting was If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.

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A curiously unpretentious take on pretentious literature, Calvino’s book is a postmodern story-within-a-story-within-a-story. The book is written in two styles, alternating between chapters. The first style is in second-person, detailing the reader’s journey from a bookshop, where the wrong book was purchased, leading to meeting a girl, and a professor, and on it goes. The second style, in alternating chapters, are random chapters from different books with different titles, locations, and subjects, usually not having anything to do with one another. It took me about halfway through the second chapter to realize this, and also that all the chapter titles, when read one after another, form a complete sentence (albeit long). Even though the second style got confusing, I was more attracted to the first style, seeing the reader’s journey through the book and all. It had a choose-your-own-adventure feel that is not too common in most books today. And the prose, while flowery in parts, didn’t get too flowery and usually circled back to the point within a page or two. It was a fun adventure, but the type you go on once but you’re glad you did and you got home safely.

I thought to myself, “you know, this is kind of like what David Mitchell tried to attempt with Cloud Atlas, only a lot cleaner, crisper, and better.” Ironically, when I looked up the book’s Wikipedia, the two names I see listed other than the author? David Mitchell, and…Scarlett Thomas, AKA one of my literary idols, who adores this book. So it gets some points for association, most definitely, but I did close the book feeling satisfied, so that’s the important thing.

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Castaway on Angsty Island

Hey y’all, I actually finished a book. Well, two, but this entry will focus on just one of them, Bright Young Things, by the lovely Scarlett Thomas.

Bright Young Things is about six British twenty-somethings who go in for a job interview but end up stranded together on a mysterious island, with no idea why they are there or how they got there. We learn a little about each of them before they arrive: Anne is an uninspired, sarcastic virgin with Peter Pan Syndrome. Jamie, a mathematician, has a job and a girlfriend but wants out of both. Thea is a working-class girl who is woefully unaware of most of the modern world. Bryn is a dreadlocked drug dealer who could’ve “been a contender” had he just applied himself. Emily is a recent graduate with a degree in art who has turned to being an escort for money. And Paul is a soon-to-be-laid-off computer programmer who wants to drain his company’s coffers and distribute the wealth to random people. They all see the same ad in the job section of the newspaper (which shows you just how long ago this book was written), apply for the job, and go to an interview, where the last thing they remember is being offered a cup of coffee, shortly after which, they wake up side by side on an island.

The island’s mysteries get curiouser and curiouser. They weren’t meant to starve or freeze to death; there is a house with a kitchen full of food, drinks, and other supplies, and six bedrooms fully outfitted with bathrooms and fresh clothes. Despite being city kids, they even manage to locate and repair a generator. Over the course of a few days, they get to know each other better and attempt to figure out the answers to their questions, namely, why were the six of them chosen to be here, and how will they be able to escape?

It seems like it could be the premise for a touchy-feely book, where everyone undergoes a great personal journey. Well, in truth…it is, and it isn’t. While they all do find out a little bit more about themselves, it actually unfolds more like a tale of six strangers actually stranded on an island, complete with panic, arguments, side-taking, resolutions, and ultimately, working together. For a bunch of supposedly “bright young things,” they’re proven to be horribly inept at most of the basic survival skills, which – let’s face it – probably most millennials would be as well, myself included. They do have occasional moments of clarity, but they’re all very flawed and human. Even though there are only six of them, it is hard to keep track of them at times, and there are a few plot holes. For example, in the Truth or Dare scene, the author mentions “Paul’s secret” but we never find out what it is, and in one of the later chapters, Emily runs off and no one knows where she went, yet a few pages later she’s back with the group, eating dinner, with no explanation of how/when/why she returned. As a reader, we know that there are limited places she could go on an island, and being a social creature, would eventually return to the house, but I had to flip back a couple pages, and…nope. they make a big deal about her running out of the house but nothing is said about her return.

Overall, although it’s not my favorite Scarlett Thomas book (which seems to be a popular opinion among Scarlett Thomas fans, at least according to Amazon.com’s page on it), it was still a page-turner. Hopefully, in the future, she’ll write some sort of follow up which gives us a bunch more questions and too few answers.

This book review was brought to you by me wishing I could escape to that island. And FWIW, I’m totally Jamie, except not as mathematical but way nerdier.