Monday, May 30, 2005

Book Review: Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett

If Autobiography of a Face was Lucy Grealy's memoir, then "Truth and Beauty" by Ann Patchett is her biography. It is more than that however; it is a story of friendship under some very trying circumstances---a modern day Boston marriage perhaps?

When she was an undergrad. in college, Ann Patchett (author of bestseller, Bel Canto) knew of Lucy Grealy. Everyone did. Lucy had lost part of her jaw on the right side of her face due to Ewing’s Sarcoma as a child. The story behind her damaged face and her incandescent personality made Lucy Grealy a campus celebrity,and because everyone knew her story, they thought they knew Lucy. Ann Patchett knew of Lucy, but when they were both starting out as graduate students at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, they ended up living together because neither could afford an apartment on her own. It was the start of an immediate and intense friendship that lasted nearly twenty years.

In this book, Ann takes us from their first meeting through Lucy's numerous reconstructive surgeries (38, in all), her desperate need to be loved and accepted, her preoccupation with having a boyfriend and to be desirable, to be the center of attention, her pain-physical and mental, the dependency on narcotics, the numerous courses she signed up for at college and successful book publications, her debts, depression, her heroin trips, her admittance into a psychiatric hospital,their mutual friends---right up until the end of Lucy's life.

To be honest, I am not sure I could write a book about my dead best friend and be so brutally revealing about her shortcomings, especially when she has no way of defending herself. I am not sure I liked the way Ann lays bare Lucy's brokenness, showcasing a damaged character. I came away from the book feeling like Lucy lacked discipline, financial responsibility and self-esteem. She seemed to live for fast and furious pleasure - whether that was sex, alcohol, drugs or the high of publishing success, but, did she really? Or is this just Ann's vantage point?

Lucy's sister is apparently quite peeved at Ann for writing this book. Here's a link to the article:

Highjacked by Grief

To Ann's credit, she fully admits that Lucy's works were often superior to her own. She lovingly tells of a joint reading the two delivered, where she hurriedly read and sat down so that the audience could receive what they truly came for: Lucy.

Ann Patchett is an extraordinary writer and I especially loved how she compared Lucy and herself to the Ant and the grasshoper from Aesop's Fables. Where she likens herself the ant---hardworking, serious, concerned for the future and Lucy the grasshoper---happy go lucky, living for the day, treating life as one big party. In the end, she observes:

"Grasshoppers and hares find the ants and tortoises. They need us to survive (referring to the fable where the ant shared her stores with the grasshoper), but we need them as well. They were the ones who brought the truth and beauty to the party, which, Lucy could tell you as she recited her Keats over breakfast, was better than food any day."

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Hangama, हंगामा

The girls and I went to the HANGAMA (हंगामा) STREET FESTIVAL at Dundas Square in Toronto this afternoon. The Festival was organized by the South Asian Heritage Festivaland there was a lot to do and see. They had some wonderful food stalls with excellent bhelpuri and other Bombay street food; another stall was doing brisk business selling dosas (Indian savory crepes) and batter-fried Simla Mirch (yummy) and although I thought it incongruous for a South Asian street fair, they also had a Carribean Stall selling Jerk Chicken!!! :)

Besides the food there were concerts and workshops galore. Whilst there, the girls learned to dance the "Bhangra" and also put henna on both their hands. But the real fun was only just starting as I was getting ready to head home at around 6:00pm. I envy the people there now because they're going to have a neat time with the dazzling entertainment schedule!

Illustrations by Lorraine Alvarez

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Book Review: Sickened by Julie Gregory

This candidly written novel is the memoir of a girl whose mom suffered with "Munchausen By Proxy" disease. Right from the first chapter I was hooked because I had never heard of such a disease and having recently developed an interest in mental diseases ( I volunteer in the ER and see a lot of patients with psychological disorders), I was very curious to read more. What I found out made me cringe, but let me first start with how psychological text books describe the affliction:

"Formally defined as an illness around 1950, MBP is a psychological disorder in which caretakers, usually female and themselves the victims of traumatic abuse, 'make an otherwise healthy child sick' as a way of gaining attention and approval for themselves. Named after an 18th-century aristocrat famous for his outrageous stories, Munchausen has been so difficult to comprehend because one simply has a hard time believing that a parent could violate and terrorize their child in such a bizarre manner."

So, the narrator's mom was obsessed with her (the narrator),having a cardiac defect from which she was going to die and her childhood was spent traipsing from one cardiologist to another, where a battery of unpleasant tests (including an invasive heart catheterization) were performed on her. When all the cardiac reports came back normal, her disappointed mom insisted that she undergo painful and embarassing tests at a urologist's clinic, a painful nose operation at an ENT clinic and also an intestinal exploration clinic for which she had to down a glass of thick barium flavored with orange so that they could take an x-ray of her intestine. When none of those tests came back positive her mom was terribly frustrated because she was convinced Julie was dying; I guess envisioning and thriving on the fact that your child could be so close to death can only be alluring to a severely mentally ill woman.

This book cannot be everyone's cup of tea because of the abuse described. It is however interesting and provides a glimpse into a life we will not often see (thankfully).

MBP is very hard for doctors to diagnose. Doctors generally look to the parent when a child is ill, and often the carer is an accomplished liar.Sandy (the mother), was someone who had her own "Encyclopedia of Disease, Internal Organs and their Functions" and armed with that material she was quite convincing when talking to the doctors.

A big thank you to kelleyanne for sharing this book with me. Thank goodness all ends well for Julie.

To find out more about her along with information on MBP:

Julie Gregory

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Japanese Spirit World

Why do the Japanese have a special predilection for ghosts, ghost stories ahd horror movies? I have made a couple of Japanese friends recently and it appears to me that while we were reading Enid Blytons and Nancy Drew, they all seem to have been brought up on a steady diet of ghost stories! On their recommendation I rented the movie "Ju-on" which was the film on which "The Grudge" was based.

Ju-on has been written and directed by Takashi Shimizu. A Ju-On in Japanese a curse, created by someone who has died a violent and premature death.

Here's the plot summary:

A volunteer social care worker, Nishina Rika (Okina), enters the home of a bed-ridden patient and discovers a strange ghostly presence lurking behind a door sealed with duct tape. Her discovery unleashes a horrible evil which baffles police investigators, who find that a whole series of people have gone missing from this particular house. Further investigation leads to Izutni Toyama (Uehara), a former detective who handled the case of a man who murdered his wife in the house, but whose son was never found. But when the angry "Ju-on"spirit of vengeance that has infected the house reaches beyond its boundaries to kill Toyama and his daughter, Rika realizes that the horror is spreading. Worse, unless something is done about it, she feels she may become the angry spirit's next victim!

Ju-On Posted by Hello

One interesting thing to note is that many of the events take place during daylight hours. Shadows emerge out of nowhere, it suddenly becomes dark, the music gets creepier, and the viewer knows that something is going to happen. Especially the first few vignettes, where nothing is clear. The primary vehicle that Shimizu uses to shock the audience is a gothed out little boy, who runs behind people, peeks around corners, and stares creepily at the various cast members---made me want to laugh! Sorry, but honestly, it didn't make my flesh crawl at all, disappointing!

The next time, I might try watching the Japanese version of "The Ring" or "Ringu" as it is known in Japan or even "Kansen:Infection" where although the storylines are not too frightening, the sound and special effects are supposed to give one the heebie-jeebies, yeah!

And why look at just the movies, even some Japanese authors seem to specialize in the bizarre. Take Haruki Murakami for instance, his books always involve portals into other dimensions. In his latest, "Kafka on the Shore", we are introduced to a transgendered hemophiliac, an old man whose brain was apparently wiped clean as a child by what may or may not have been a UFO which leaves him unable to read but with the ability to communicate with cats, and finally, a supernatural figure dressed as Johnnie Walker (the guy on the whiskey bottle).Talk about bizarre!!!

Even the kids' movie "Spirited Away" is not spared. A ten-year old girl named Chihiro becomes lost in an alternate universe with sorceresses, ghouls, a man with no-face, dragons, gigantic babies etc., and must find within herself the pluck and the love to endure a series of dangerous tests before she can go home. An excellent movie no doubt, but we never seem to be able to get away from the "spirit" theme if it's a Japanese movie.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Movie Review: Les Choristes (2004)

Les Choristes Posted by Hello

Well, I'm not sure whether I watched this movie because I like boy choirs, or whether I like boy choirs because I watched the movie! lol Either way, the movie is wonderful but the soundtrack is spectacular!!!

It's a French movie and it is the semi-autobiographical story of the director Christophe Barratier. It belongs in the tradition of inspirational teacher dramas - see such predecessors as Dead Poets Society, Mr Holland's Opus, and Goodbye, Mr Chips - and unapologetically tugs at the heart strings.

It is set in Post-War France and involves an out-of-job failed music composer who takes a job as a prefect in a boarding school for delinquent children and turns them around by imparting to them his love of music. By forming a boy's chorus he keeps a lot of them out of mischief. Jean-Baptiste Maunier, who plays the choir soloist in the movie, is a choir boy and first-time actor. Maunier's ephemeral voice, and his real-life choir companions are heard throughout the film on the gorgeous sound track with music by Bruno Coulais. The boys have become big stars in France, even performing around the country. Maunier, in particular, has reached rock-star status in France. According to the BBC, his biggest hit is even downloadable as a cell-phone ring-tone. Now, that's a true measure of success in France.

"Les Choristes" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. That's not too shabby for first-time filmmaker Barratier, who made this with little money (about $6 million), only one camera and a host of amateur child actors (A lot of the other boys in the movie have real life difficulties and the movie has managed to help a lot of them.)

After the movie, France seems to have gone mad over boy choirs and a lot of parents are demanding that schools reintroduce boy choirs.

Autorickshaw: Four Higher

Four Higher Posted by Hello

I've always been a huge fan of World and Fusion Music, so when Carnatic classical music marries good ol' western Jazz, as it does in Autorickshaw's 'Four Higher' it can't get any better (for me atleast!). Suba Sankaran, the lead singer, is trained both in Jazz and Indian classical music and a lot of the tracks on this album are ragas राग and Vedic chants set to hypnotic pop and jazz beats. The full effect is hypnotic and mesmerizing!!! I especially love the track "Saraswati", which is a prayer to the Hindu Goddess of art, poetry and creative endeavor. Tune in also and listen to Duke Ellington take a rickshaw to his "Caravan", yup, Suba scats with verve to Duke Ellington's "Caravan". Another great track on this album!

The CD comes with an informative booklet and a colorful one too, the latter a takeoff on the exotic art on releases in India, particularly the southern part of the country.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Beneath The Banyan Tree

Beneath the Banyan tree Posted by Hello

We saw this truly wonderful dance/play today about Anjali, an Indian girl, who has just moved to Toronto from Bangalore in India and the difficulties she has coming to terms with her Indian-ness in her adopted country, Canada. To conquer the aloneness, she feels she conjures up a fantasy world filled with characters from the "Panchatantra" (an Indian Aesop Fables). The performance is a wonderful blend of dance (Indian Bharath Natyam and contemporary), story-telling, puppetry and music.

Although the performance was geared towards children in the 6-11 year age group, my teenager and I enjoyed it just as much. The kids will love the brightly coloured stage props, the dancing animals and the story-telling. In this land of immigrants, Anjali's story has universal appeal.

"Beneath the Banyan Tree" was choreographed by Lata Pada of "Sampradya Dance Creations" fame and we saw it at Toronto's Harborfront "Milk International Children's Festival of the Arts".

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Book Recommendation: Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert Posted by Hello

Quick synopsis:

Seven-year-old Rachel Kalama loves her life on the island of Oha'u in idyllic Hawaii and dreams of travel to distant places like her merchant seaman father . . . until she is found to have leprosy. Forcibly removed from her parents by the authorities and sent to the leper's colony on Moloka'i, Rachel finds friendship, love, and eventually health as she grows to adulthood during the first part of the 20th Century.

I would recommend this book!


First of all, this is historical fiction at its best! Because the author starts his story in 1890 and ends it in 1970, you are walked through a huge chunk of Hawaiian history---the monarchy, the annexation of Hawai'i by the US government, Statehood, World War 2, Pearl Harbor, invention of Sulpha drugs that eventually halt the progression of leprosy. Although the historical facts are plentiful, they are not overpowering, they provide just the right touch of balance to the fictional part of the story...making it real while keeping it from being dry. (Also, The author wrote screenplays for "LA Law," so far from being a dry history lesson, this book sizzles with plot twists, romance and intrigue!)

The story itself is moving (melancholy and yet joyous) and provides you with an insight as to how it must have been for people suffering from leprosy in those days---you see how lonely it is to be an outcast, shut off from society, and yet, these patients bore their lot with dignity, trying to make the best of the rotten hand that fate had dealt them. This was particularly meaningful to me as having grown up in India, lepers and leprosy are not alien to me. As a child I would see leprosy patients all the time, and like the children in Hawai'i, I, too, was told to stay away from them and not to touch them lest I contract it myself. How ignorant we were. How much my heart bleeds for the patients I may have inadvertently offended.

Last, but certainly, not least, the author does such a lovely job of capturing the essence of the land in which it was set. As you read the novel, you can almost smell the briny Hawai'ian air with its faint sweet fragrance of plumeria, you can see the beautiful volcanic mountains in the distance, you can hear the sweet little Hawai'ian children calling out to their friends. The book is sprinkled liberally with charming Hawai'ian words and phrases which add to the Hawaiian experience. This book is a celebration of Hawai'i and in particular, the group of leprosy patients (or Hansen's Disease as it was later referred to) who triumphed over adversity and managed to make decent lives for themselves on the island.

An unforgettable read, truly.

Links you might be interested in:

Moloka'i, Hawai'i

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Movie Review: Maria Full of Grace

Maria Full of Grace Posted by Hello

Maria Full of Grace is a movie about three girls who travel from Colombia to New Jersey in the USA as mules carrying about 50 pellets of cocaine between them. Drug carriers were known as mules because when applied to an animal the term "mule" refers to a beast of burden - a slow, uncomplaining, dull creature whose sole asset is that it can transport large amounts of cargo without drawing attention to itself. When applied to humans, mules were supposed to do likewise, carry a large amount of drugs all the while looking so unlike someone that would deal with drugs thus remaining undetected by the US customs and security. For this purpose, many a time, young innocent-looking peasant women would be chosen as mules. Many of them would choose to do the work because it meant alleviating their families from dire poverty. Few went for the adventure.

This movie, directed by Joshua Marston (his debut) was brilliant because it took you behind the scenes of what happens as a drug mule prepares to go on his or her journey. Right from the interview of a mule, to the preparation of the drug pellets, to the process of how the mule ingests them, the airline trip, the the encounter with customs, the collection of the pellets on the other side, everything is shown in meticulous detail, opening our eyes to the terrible risks involved in such a murky business.

Catalina Sandino Moreno who plays plays Maria, a 17-year old Colombian girl who becomes a drug mule in order to support her family and unborn baby, gives a brilliant,realistic, moving performance that will stay with the viewer for a long time.

The film's title, taken from the Catholic "Hail Mary" prayer and poster imagery (a young woman receiving communion, with the wafer being replaced by a pellet) might lead a potential viewer to expect 'Maria Full of Grace' to be overflowing with catholic symbolism, but it isn't, although the setting, Colombia, happens to be a highly religious society. The movie is a political (although, not overtly so) take on the Colombian drug culture. Maria, and the two other mules are presented as victims, but not as unwilling participants. Their plight is tragic no doubt, and they have been preyed upon by greedy men, but they know the risks and have entered into this underworld willingly. Like all who make such a pact, they are shocked when payment is exacted so quickly and ruthlessly.

I would put this movie in a "definitely worth watching" category.

Book Discussion: The Case of the Female Orgasm, by Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd

Bias in the Science of Evolution Posted by Hello

A new book by Dr. Elisabeth A. Lloyd (Indiana University philosopher), titled "The Case of the Female Orgasm", debates that the female orgasm has any role in evolution. What she does is to take the 21 existing explanations or theories supporting the female orgasm as having an evolutionary function and knocks them dead one by one.

From the NYT:

According to Dr. Lloyd the most convincing theory is one put forward in 1979 by Dr. Donald Symons, an anthropologist.

That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts - a byproduct of the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or nine weeks of life.

In that early period, the nerve and tissue pathways are laid down for various reflexes, including the orgasm, Dr. Lloyd said. As development progresses, male hormones saturate the embryo, and sexuality is defined.

In boys, the penis develops, along with the potential to have orgasms and ejaculate, while "females get the nerve pathways for orgasm by initially having the same body plan."

Nipples in men are similarly vestigial, Dr. Lloyd pointed out. While nipples in woman serve a purpose, male nipples appear to be simply left over from the initial stage of embryonic development.

The female orgasm, she said, "is for fun."

Wow, any wonder why people are attacking Darwin and his theory of evolution --- women have sex for fun!! Who would have thought so? ;)

However, the trouble I have with such a theory is this: If women's orgasms have no role to play in evolution, isn't it possible that by the process of natural selection women might learn to do away with it all together?

If this interests you, read the rest of the article here

The article has all sorts of stats about how often women experience orgasm via sexual intercourse (25% "unassisted"),it also includes some conflicting opinions, one from a doctor by the name of (and I'm not kidding) Dr. John Alcock who said, that a woman might use orgasm "as an unconscious way to evaluate the quality of the male," his genetic fitness and, thus, how suitable he would be as a father for her offspring. "Under those circumstances, you wouldn't expect her to have it every time," Dr. Alcock said.

And, oh, look, here's another interesting point from the article:

Among the theories that Dr. Lloyd addresses in her book is one proposed in 1993, by Dr. R. Robin Baker and Dr. Mark A. Bellis, at Manchester University in England. In two papers published in the journal Animal Behaviour, they argued that female orgasm was a way of manipulating the retention of sperm by creating suction in the uterus. When a woman has an orgasm from one minute before the man ejaculates to 45 minutes after, she retains more sperm, they said.

Furthermore, they asserted, when a woman has intercourse with a man other than her regular sexual partner, she is more likely to have an orgasm in that prime time span and thus retain more sperm, presumably making conception more likely. They postulated that women seek other partners in an effort to obtain better genes for their offspring.

Does this mean that a woman is more likely to become pregnant if she makes out with someone other than her regular sexual partner? Hmmm.

See what Slate had to say about the book.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Shwaas: India's entry for the Oscars 2005

Shwaas Posted by Hello

A good friend of mine sent me this movie a couple of weeks ago. I was curious about the movie mostly because I knew that this was India's entry for the Oscars in the Foreign Film Category, but 15 mins into the movie I was hooked because I could see that there was a thoughtful, sensitive and heartwarming story about to unfold. This particular copy did have sub-titles (the movie is in Marathi which I don't understand), but truthfully, I didn't feel the need for subtitles because the acting, the expressions, the way the story was told made use of a universal language.

The movie is based on a true story. A 7-year old boy from the village is diagnosed with a rare form of retinal cancer and the doctor decrees that in order to save his life the boy has to have an eye operation which would render him blind. When the operation is postponed by a day, the little boy's grandfather who brought him to the city from the village for the operation, takes him on a day trip filling his sight with fairs, markets, temples, football games and everything that the boy would never see again.

I enjoyed the movie because although the story was of such a serious nature, the director didn't turn it into a melodrama; it was a story of human relationships especially the beautiful and loving relationship of the grandfather with his grandson.

Go here for the official Shwaas webpage.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Kahani, which means story in Hindi

Kahani Posted by Hello

I am so excited to announce a new South Asian literary magazine for-------children!!!

"Kahani is a bimonthly literary magazine dedicated to empowering, educating and entertaining children of South Asian descent living in North America. It is an alternative publication that reflects their unique life experiences not found in mainstream literature. Created especially for children in elementary school, Kahani is proud to be the first magazine of its kind".

Do check them out here

Toronto Women's Bookstore

I just have to a give a plug to the Toronto Women's Bookstore. It is my mission to support them as much as I can because I appreciate their mission to give a voice to women writers, especially marginalized women, including women of colour, First Nations women, lesbians, disabled women, Jewish women, and other groups of women.

Aside from that, they also have a wonderful selection of books, lots of speaker events, book launches and evenings of readings and poetry. Do check them out!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Book Review: Bound Feet & Western Dress by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang

The author, Pang-Mei Natasha Chang was a Chinese studies major at Harvard when to her great surprise, her great aunt's name popped up in a textbook. This makes her curious enough to want to talk to her aunt Yu-i about her life in China. This results in a very poignant memoir of her very Chinese aunt who grew up in China in the early part of the 20th century where filial piety and duty towards one's husband and then one's sons came above and before everyone and everything else in a woman's life. The first chapter, aptly titled, "A Woman is Nothing", tells it all.

Take for instance, the tradition of foot binding.
Great-Aunt Yu-I describes the pains of foot binding in detail. She explains the breaking of the bones in the foot, the removal of bloody bandages, the soaking, the rewrapping and tightening of the bandages. The process began when Yu-I was three years old. When her brother saw the pain Yu-I was in, he insisted that his mother stop the painful binding, but the mother worried that without bound feet, no man would marry Yu-i. Bound feet are not only considered beautiful like a lotus flower, but they also serve to control women and keep them confined to their houses.

Another way they controlled women was to keep them ignorant. Although Yu-I was a keen learner she found few opportunities to gain an education.

Anyway, as Pang-Mei continued to interview her aunt, she found to her great astonishment, that her eighty-three-year-old aunt had once been married to Hsu Chih-mo, China's preeminent modern poet and had suffered the anguish of enduring what is considered China's first Western-style divorce. The reason the marriage didn't work was because Hsu Chih-mo wanted a Western-thinking woman with modern ideals, but who would remain subservient to him and his parents. Little did he realize that 'bound feet and western dress' did not mix. Also, all Chinese women at that time had to accept their husband's concubines without a fuss or without showing any kind of jealousy because along with disobeying his parents, not being able to bear him sons, commiting adultery, being repulsively sick, talking too much and commiting theft, being jealous was one of the seven recognized grounds for divorce!

Yu-i's story does end happily enough, in that, she makes a life for herself in Shanghai and goes on to become the Vice-President of the Women's Bank before she has to immigrate to the US to escape the Cultural Revolution.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Shadow Cities by Robert Neuwirth

Picture of a slum in Bombay

From "The Current" at

Here in North America, affordable housing is a cause celebre to activists, a bargaining chip for politicians and almost impossible to find for those who need it. And squatters, well, depending on whom you talk to, they're either anarchists, criminals or just a nuisance.

Robert Neuwirth found that it's a very different story in the big cities of the developing world. He went to live in the burgeoning and bustling squatter cities in the sprawling metropolises of Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Mumbai and Istanbul. He rented his temporary homes from other squatters, ate in their restaurants and used their latrines. His new book, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, chronicles his experiences in these illegal settlements among the fastest-growing urban communities in the world.

Also read what Boing Boing had to say about his book here

WorldChanging also has a very informative piece on Neuwirth's book here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson

Well, I'm always telling my daughters how they shouldn't waste their time watching TV or playing video games and that they should be reading instead and then along comes a book (brought to my attention by my teenager) that tells us that playing video games is actually good for us. After I got over the shock, I delved more into what the author and social critic, Steven Johnson, was saying and I have to admit *gasp* that I actually agree with quite a big chunk of his argument that pop culture could be brain candy to a certain extent.

Here's an extract from a review of his book in "The NewYorker" written by Malcolm Gladwell of "Blink" and Tipping Point" fame:

As Johnson points out, television is very different now from what it was thirty years ago. It’s harder. A typical episode of “Starsky and Hutch,” in the nineteen-seventies, followed an essentially linear path: two characters, engaged in a single story line, moving toward a decisive conclusion. To watch an episode of “Dallas” today is to be stunned by its glacial pace—by the arduous attempts to establish social relationships, by the excruciating simplicity of the plotline, by how obvious it was. A single episode of “The Sopranos,” by contrast, might follow five narrative threads, involving a dozen characters who weave in and out of the plot. Modern television also requires the viewer to do a lot of what Johnson calls “filling in,” as in a “Seinfeld” episode that subtly parodies the Kennedy assassination conspiracists, or a typical “Simpsons” episode, which may contain numerous allusions to politics or cinema or pop culture. The extraordinary amount of money now being made in the television aftermarket—DVD sales and syndication—means that the creators of television shows now have an incentive to make programming that can sustain two or three or four viewings. Even reality shows like “Survivor,” Johnson argues, engage the viewer in a way that television rarely has in the past:

Johnson develops the same argument about video games. Most of the people who denounce video games, he says, haven’t actually played them—at least, not recently. Twenty years ago, games like Tetris or Pac-Man were simple exercises in motor coördination and pattern recognition. Today’s games belong to another realm. Johnson points out that one of the “walk-throughs” for “Grand Theft Auto III”—that is, the informal guides that break down the games and help players navigate their complexities—is fifty-three thousand words long, about the length of his book. The contemporary video game involves a fully realized imaginary world, dense with detail and levels of complexity.

What I didn't like however was what he had to say about books. He denounced books as being a solitary, isolated pastime where kids didn't have a chance to interact with their peers through the process. No? How about book groups? Or school competitions like "Battle of the Books"? I think those are f ine ways for children to discuss books together, don't you?

In the author's words:

Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . . .
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. . . . This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one.

Bah, I say!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Book review: Journey from the Land of No by Roya Hakakian

"Journey From the Land of No", is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about a young Iranian-Jew's attempt to find her authentic self at a time of cultural closing and repression in Iran.

Not only does the author tell the story of what it was like to grow up Jewish in Iran on the brink of the revolution, but she also introduces her readers to a cast of colorful and eccentric characters that were a part of her life in Iran. Mrs. Moghadam, Roya's school principal, left a lasting impression on me. Her fiery lectures to the young women are not to be missed. The language is fierce, but delightful because it evokes such strong feelings in the reader. After reading one of those lectures I knew exactly how frustrated and suffocated Roya and her classmates must have felt under that repressive regime.

A good read!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Book Review: Vikas Swarup's Q & A

Vikas Swarup "Q & A" Posted by Hello

If you have a penchant for Bollywood movies, you will
enjoy this book because it reads just like a story out
of Bollywood. The protagonist, Ram Mohamed Thomas, is
a poor waiter who emerges as the winner of a billion
rupees in the "Who Will Win a Billion" show. But
instead of seeing his prize money he sees the inside
of a cell, for according to popular logic, how can a
poor, virtually illiterate orphan boy know the answers
to 12 tricky questions on a game show unless he has

To prepare his defense, the protagonist's lawyer
conducts a lengthy interview with him to assess how he
got all 12 answers right despite being a barely
educated, penniless waiter, and in doing so, we the
readers are treated to Ram's life story in 12
wonderful chapters during which we conclude that Ram
has drawn on a wealth of street wisdom and life
lessons enabling him not just to win a quiz show but
to win the struggle against itself.

This is a delightfully told yarn, at once funny and
sad and sometimes employing a highly exaggerated style
which is necessary when you consider that the
protagonist and his chums are huge Bollywood fans. The
writer does a wonderful job of taking the reader on a
trip through the underbelly of India introducing the
readers to a whole host of colorful characters which
inlude street urchins, pimps, dacoits, slum dwellers,
Taj Mahal tour guides and even a princess. I
thorougly enjoyed this book and was almost sad when I
came to the last page.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Welcome to my Library!!!

Just a little cozy home for book lovers and the occasional movie watcher. I might also include music album reviews from time to time. I hope you will stop by often to read my reviews and share your comments. I am not a terribly fast reader; you will find that I average between 3-4 books on a good month. I am also a great fan of audio books. My favorite genres? I would have to say South Asian Literature and Contemporary Fiction. However, I also enjoy History, Neuroscience and Memoirs in small doses. Hope to hear from some of you soon!

I am not how to explain my love for reading; this little extract from Marion Keyes' book "Watermelon", perhaps explains it the best:

"Then we wandered around a bookshop for a while. My
adrenaline started pumping any time I was within about
a hundred yards of a bookshop. I loved books nearly as
much as I loved clothes. And that is saying something.
The feel of books and the smell of them. A bookshop
was like an Aladdin's cave for me. Entire worlds and
lives can be found just behind that glossy cover. All
you had to do was look."