Review: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

February 27, 2013

If you thought what I thought when I saw the title of this book, let me make it clear that it's not what you think. You can read ahead. It's safe :).

Title: The Lover's Dictionary
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Publication Date: February 2, 3012 (first published January 4th 2011) 
Genre: Romance, Relationships, Reference ;)
Rating: 4/ 5 stars
Amazon | Goodreads
How does one talk about love? Is it even possible to describe something at once utterly mundane and wholly transcendent, that has the power to consume our lives completely, while making us feel part of something infinitely larger than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this age-old problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary constructs the story of a relationship as a dictionary. Through these sharp entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of coupledom, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
I love books that are different, out-of-the-box. Like verse novels, or Thirteen Reasons Why (my review!), or this one here - The Lover's Dictionary. I mean, who would think to write a story in the form of a dictionary?

I was reading some of the reviews of this book, and one of the reviewers said this: Read this book only when you are in love or you are in love with love. It's probably true. Well, at least it is for me (the latter one, before you ask ;)). But I was wondering, aren't we all? Either one or the other? Even a bit?

The book has a nerer-been-seenread-before concept, and it actually works. You have to admit, authors who take on unique concepts like this don't really know what the reception is going to be like. And a DICTIONARY. I'll probably keep repeating this (that's its a dictionary), because seriously, its a hard task to take up. What to write for what word? What words to pick in the first place from the actual dictionary? Write it with continuity or titbits? So many questions, but Levithan actually pulls it off.

Interestingly, to that last question, the author chose the latter option. Titbits. Not only titbits, but he chose anonymity too. There's not a single name anywhere. It's just 'I' and 'You'. I started reading the book assuming the narrator was a guy, then I thought maybe I shouldn't, because who know? it could be a woman. I kept wondering and looking for clues, right up till 'beguile, v.' where I found out that he is after all a he.

The titbits part is interesting. It goes back and forth, a bit here, a bit there, and it's left up to you to fit in the pieces and get the whole picture. Some people might find that annoying, but I kind of likes that. It kept my mind active.

It's a pretty short book, you can probably finish it in a day, even if you're a slow reader. I won't say much for the storyline, but the concept and writing makes up for it, so it's okay.

Now, a few of my favourite definitions...

awhile, adv.
I love the vagueness of words that involve time.
It took him awhile to come back - it could be a matter of minutes or hours, days or years.

ineffable, adj.
These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there, there will never be enough.

love, n.
I'm not even going to try.

lover, n.
Oh, how I hated this word. So pretentious, like it was always being translated from the French. The tint and taint of illicit, illegitimate affections. Dictionary meaning: a person having a love affair. Impermanent. Unfamilial. Inextricably linked to sex.
I have never wanted a lover. In order to have a lover, I must go back to the root of the word. For I have never wanted a lover, but I have always wanted lover, and to be loved.
There is no word for the recipient of the love. There is only a word for the giver. There is the assumption that lovers come in pairs.
When I say, Be my lover, I don't mean, Let's have an affair. I don't mean Sleep with me. I don't mean, Be my secret.
I want us to go back to that root.
I want you to be the one who loves me.
I want to be the one who loves you.”
*I was a bit hesitant to read the book because of the name, but when I read this definition, I got it. I loved it. And I love that he thinks like that.*

stymie, v.
That ten-letter word for moderate in eating and drinking - first letter a, fourth letter t? I knew it all along, but was so entertained by your frustration that I kept it to myself.
*I just couldn't resist passing this one along. If you're like me, you're probably hunting for a dictionary or breaking your head if there's lack of one (like there was for me).*

The Lover's Dictionary is funny, deep, and it makes you think. It gave me whole new insights into words; a whole new meaning for it that I'd never thought of. And it was fun reading the little incidents and seeing how they fit the word.

The Lover's Dictionary is a quick read, perfect for travel or if you're bored to death and want some action for your mind.

P.S.: I ADORE the cover. Right now, I've got an obsession with all things red, so this is right up my lane. And I sorta matched the blurb box to the cover :D

P.P.S: A big shout out to Pooja S. of Of Books! for lending this book to me. Seriously Pooja, I love you for giving me such awesome books throughout this year, and I'm gonna miss that (and you ;)).

Writing over The Weekend: Heart over Mind

February 24, 2013

I'm picking up my pen (or in this case, keyboard?) to write a short story after a VERY LONG time. I think it's about a decade since I last wrote one. About 45 minutes before the closing time, I got an idea, so I wrote it in a bit of a hurry.It might be a little rough around the edges since I'm WAY out of touch with story writing, so please make some allowances :D

Okay. Here goes...

Trrrriiiiinnng Trrrrrrriiiiiiinnng! Trrriiiiinnnggg Trrrriiiinngg!

"Yes yes! 94%! I know, I know, we are all proud of her! Ladoos will be doing the rounds soon!"

Trrrriiiiinnng Trrrrrrriiiiiiinnng! Trrriiiiinnnggg Trrrriiiinngg!

"94% Mama! Engineering seat confirmed thaan ippo! All my prayers have been answered."

 As I sat on the couch, celebrating with the rest of my family, I kept one ear on my mother's conversations on the phone.

The 12th Board results had come out, and as you would've guessed, I received 94%. I was ecstatic about the marks. I mean, duh! Anyone would. Never, even in my wildest dreams had I thought I'd get such high marks.

94% is a big deal in Tamil Nadu. College seats are very difficult to get with all the neck-to-neck competition. My parents were dead set on me studying engineering. Specifically, EC. They had the capitation money ready (along with a suitcase for the cause) ever since I finished writing the exams. But now, since my marks were so high, they wouldn't need to blow their money on greasing the palms of corrupt officials. That's why Mamma was so happy.

"Raaga, I'm so proud of you ma. You know that, right? Now you can study, get well settled, and who knows, you can even go to US and get a green card. You'll call all of us there no?", asked my Papa.

I laughed uneasily. "Of course, Papa. If I dont call you, then who will I call?"

It was Papa's dream get me into an engineering college. He felt that if he had studied the same, he would have a better life now. Dont ask me what's wrong with our life as it is. I think it's perfectly alright.

My elder cousin nudged me. "US, huh? Engineering? Are you sure you want to do this? What happened to following your heart?"

"Anu, shh. I'm still thinking."

Everyone wants me to go for engineering. It's the in-thing right now, and jobs right out of college are pretty much a guarantee. But I'll let you into a secret: I've never wanted to study engineering. Yes, I'm good at the subjects necessary for it, but that doesn't mean I enjoy it. It doesn't get me excited or stimulate me in any way. It's like how my sister hated Biology, but she still scored the highest in that subject. Weird, but true.

What do I want to do with my life? I want to become a Fashion Designer. But I'm scared to take the leap. If I become an engineer, my future is set. I wont have to worry about anything ever again, and neither would my parents.

on the other hand, fashion designing... It can take a lot of time to get recognised and established in the field. Plus, for the amount of money you pour in (not meager by any measure), success is not immediate. But I know that it will make me happy, and it will help me grow as a person. And if I click, that's it.

But can I do it? That's the question. My heart tells me to go for it, but my head (sensible organ that it is) is telling me to stick to the safe option.

I got up to get a drink from the kitchen. As I was sipping from my glass, my eyes fell on one of those magnet with quotes on them that are all over our fridge. "Leave the crowd, stand apart, ignore your head and follow your heart."

It was like that magnet was put right there for me, for my eyes to fall on it. It had to be Fate's way of telling me to follow my heart.

But how do I break it to my parents?

I returned to the couch.

Anu hissed from next to me, "Raaga, just go for it. If you dont open your mouth now, it'll be too late. Dont procastinate in this too. It's not wise. And I'm right here to support you,"

I stood up. Mamma put the phone down just then after yet another excited  conversation.

"Mamma, come here a minute, will you? The phone calls can wait, Ma. I have something to say."

Mamma took a seat on the arm of my father's chair. "What is it, beta?"

I took a deep breath. Alright. The moment of truth. "I dont want to do engineering."

Utter. Complete. Silence.


"I want to become a Fashion Designer."

That woke them right up.

"Fashion Designing aah? What?! Do you know what goes on in those colleges?"

"Where did this hair-brained idea come from suddenly?!"

"Seiously Raaga? Fashion Designer?"

I held up a hand. "Mamma, Papa, before you jump to conclusions, this did not come out of the blue. I have been thinking about this for a long time. You know I've always been inclined towards the arts."

My mother sputtered, "Yes, but..."

"I kept quiet till now beacuse I didn't want to start something just when the exams were around the corner."

Aarthi Aunty spoke up, "All that is okay, but do you know how designing colleges are? Everyone is all hi-fi. You will not fit in. Otherwise you will also change and become spoilt."

I knew this would happen and had my argument ready. "Aunty, my parents have given me a wholesome upbringing and have instilled strong values in me. I will not go astray. You will just have to trust me on this."

My father still had not said a word. "Papa, waht do you think?"

He looked up at me; he looked dazed. I hated that I put that look in his eyes. "I dont know what to say. All this time, we were all planning so much, and suddenly... I had dreamed so much for you..."

I went to my father and placed my hand in his. "Pa, I know you have big dreams for me, and I love you and thank you for it. But just because I'm not going to be an engineer, doesn't mean that I still cant fulfill those dreams, Pa. I swear you dont have to worry about me. I knew all the worries and questions that you would have, so I've researched it well. I even have a mail typed out and ready to send to you with all the proof." I grinned.

That brought a small smile to his face.

"And you just wait and see Daddy. US is what you want for us, right? Just you wait. I will go not only to US, but I will travel all over the world. You and Mamma will never have anything to worry about. I promise, Papa."

I could see the spark coming into Papa's eyes again. "Promise?"

I knew what he meant. I grinned. It was our little ritual.

I jumped onto his lap (I may be 18 and an adult in the eyes of the world, but I'll always fit into my father's lap) and sqeezed him as hard as I could. "One, two, eight or eighteen, a promise I make I will keep."

I stayed in the circle of his warmth for another moment.

My mind was clear. My world was right again. My heart was right after all.

"Thank you, Papa."

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

*Update on 1/03/2013*: I'm super excited that this thingie got the badge! Yay! :D

Review: Gently Falls The Bakula by Sudha Murty

February 20, 2013

Gently Falls the Bakula
Title: Gently Falls The Bakula
Author: Sudha Murthy
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Amazon | Goodreads
‘Shrikant was restless . . . Holding a bakula flower in his palm, he was wondering why he was fascinated by this tiny flower, that was neither as beautiful as a rose nor had the fragrance of a jasmine or a champaka. And yet, it was very special to him. It held an inexplicable attraction for him.’

Shrimati and Shrikant are neighbours and star students of their school in the small north Karnataka town of Hubli. It leaves no one in surprise when they come first and second respectively in the final Board exams. Soon Shrikant discovers he is strangely attracted to Shrimati, a plain-looking yet charming person, who always does better than him in the exams. Shrimati too falls in love with the amiable and handsome Shrikant and the two get married. Shrikant joins an IT company and starts rapidly climbing the corporate ladder. He works relentlessly and reaches the pinnacle of his industry, while Shrimati abandons her academic aspirations and becomes his uncomplaining shadow, silently fulfilling her duties as a corporate leader’s wife. But one day, while talking to an old professor, she starts examining what she has done with her life and realizes it is dismally empty . . .

Gently Falls the Bakula is the story of a marriage that loses its way as ambition and self-interest take their toll. Written nearly three decades ago, Sudha Murty’s first novel remains startlingly relevant in its scrutiny of modern values and work ethics.
A quick word on the author...

First of all, I never knew that Sudha Murty even wrote. That makes me feel very uneducated since both she and her husband N. R. Narayana Murty are pretty well known out here. The husband-wife duo are very down to earth, and involved in philanthropy, besides managing one of the largest IT companies in India. My aunt knows of her from when she lived in Dubai, and I often hear the story of how they maintained their own bathrooms when I crib about doing my chores. Sudha Murty is the recipient of the Padma Shri award, the forth  highest-ranking civilian award from the Government of India and a recipient of the N K Narayana 

Gently Falls The Bakula was originally written in another language and translated into English.

Have you ever read a book in which the writing was great, but you didn't like the characters? Gently Falls The Bakula was one such book for me. The style of writing was simple and neat, a perfect portrayal of Indian speech. But the characters... meh. But maybe, it is a sign of the author's excellence that I feel so strongly about the characters?

Shrikant and Shrimati are both star pupils of their school and next door neighbors whose properties are divided by a Bakula tree. Their families are locked in a feud for the past few generations.
Shrikant and Shrimati offer each other stiff competition in school. One day on a train journey after they have passed out from school, they slowly start to get acquainted with each other. They fall in love, and the relationship stands the test of time and distance. They eventually get married and move to Bombay.

It is in the city that the marriage starts going downhill. Shrimati plays the 'perfect wife' in lieu of pursuing her passion and Shrikant rapidly and steadily climbs the corporate ladder, without realising that his family life is taking a hit. Will the couple find a way to mend their relationship or will they go on as they are, with Shrikant using his wife like a secretary and Shrimati finding herself unsatisfied and unstimulated in her role as the 'corporate leader's wife'? Or will they go their own ways?

I could completely understand the issues in the book, being an Indian myself. The ideologies, the family rivalry, the typical mother-in-law and sister-in-law vs daughter-in-law enmity, the misconceptions about educational qualifications, and the practices surrounding marriage and match making are all very familiar. Though Indian society is changing, antiquated thoughts still exist in the older generation.

I'm not very fond of the characters. Shrikant I had a very low opinion of right from the start, while Shrimati I grew increasingly frustrated with as the story progressed.

Shrikant is a self serving, wife-ignoring, my-job-is-my-life attitude holding male chauvinist. Think that's harsh? Well, the guy is an idiot. Right from the start, even at school, he does not consider Shrimati a worthy opponent & is shocked when she one-ups him at the board exams (I laughed gleefully :D Go Girls!). He allows himself to start a relationship with her only after he concludes that they are no longer rivals since they are in different fields. I often wondered if one reason he 'fell' for her was so that he could show himself that no matter how many times she beat him in school, ultimately she is completely dependent on him, and a simple housewife while he has advanced to the one of the highest steps on the ladder. But I have to admit that he did encourage Shrimati to pursue her Masters.

Shrimati is a sensitive, intelligent, quiet girl with a passion for History. At the end of the book, the couple is well advanced in their years, but Shrimati remained a girl in my mind. Shrimati loves her 'Shri' with all her heart. She wears Bakula flowers in her hair and sends him a few in their periodic letters. Shrimati has very simple wants. She just wants to have the love and attention of her husband, be accepted by her in-laws, and have a symbol of their love in a child. Unfortunately, the couple is unable to have a child due to a rare disorder. This loss greatly affects Shrimati. You would think that she would divert her attention to other things right? But no. It made me so mad when Shrimati just watched life pass her by when she had so much untapped potential. And all that she took from Shrikant before putting her foot down... Unbelievable. No woman is sopatient and doormat-esque. Then again, this is India we're talking about, and this book was written 30 years ago, so its understandable. But India's changing, Alhamdulillah :)

Symbolism plays a huge role in the story. Shrikant first notices Shrimati because of the Bakula flowers she puts on her hair. It is in the shade of the Bakula tree that the youngsters fall in love. The unassuming Bakula flower has an extraordinary property; it has a sweet fragrance, but when the flower dries, it has an even sweeter smell. I dont know if this is what the author meant, but his is my understanding of the Bakula's relevance to the chracters. Shrimati, like the Bakula is unassuming and quiet in her ways, though she is intelligent and passionate about several things. And like the Bakula, it is in her later years, after she 'falls' and had 'dried' that her 'fragrance' becomes sweeter and she comes alive again. And, the historic story of sage Bhamati that Shrimati narrates to Shrikant proves to be almost prophetic. 

Overall, I liked the book, though I was peeved by the characters. Recommended if you want a glimpse of yesteryear Indian society and some interesting Indian History lesson.

Review: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

February 9, 2013

Audrey, Wait!Title: Audrey, Wait!
Author: Robin Benway
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: April 10, 2008
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 3 of 5
Amazon | Goodreads
California high school student Audrey Cuttler dumps self-involved Evan, the lead singer of a little band called The Do-Gooders. Evan writes, “Audrey, Wait!” a break-up song that’s so good it rockets up the billboard charts. And Audrey is suddenly famous!

Now rabid fans are invading her school. People is running articles about her arm-warmers. The lead singer of the Lolitas wants her as his muse. (And the Internet is documenting her every move!) Audrey can't hang out with her best friend or get with her new crush without being mobbed by fans and paparazzi.

Take a wild ride with Audrey as she makes headlines, has outrageous amounts of fun, confronts her ex on MTV, and gets the chance to show the world who she really is.
Audrey breaks up with her boyfriend. No big, right?


Thing is, her boyfriend, Evan, is in a rock band. And they have a gig in a few hours. Where Even sings a song about their breakup.

Yep. (I know what you're thinking)

Audrey, Wait! (that's the name of the song) shoots up to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 List in a matter of months. Suddenly, the song's everywhere.

Maybe you danced to it at prom or sang it in your car on a Friday night when you were driving and feeling like you must be inhuman to be this happy, the windows down and nothing but air around you. Your mum has probably hummed it while cleaning the dryer's lint trap, and your grandpa has most likely whistled a couple bars.

As the song makes it's way to the top, Audrey's life changes overnight. The press is calling off the hook, the paparazzi is hounding her, her social life has gone for a toss, and her best friend is turning into a freebie hound.

Audrey copes with the life-altering changes with the steady companionship of her best friend Victoria and James, her fellow employee at the Scooper Dooper. And with the newly blossoming relationship between her and James, there is no lack of interesting things.

The characters in Audrey, Wait! are so distinct and unique that they almost jump right out of the pages. They manage to keep you in splits from laughing right from page 1. At times, I found myself being jealous of Audrey for having such a perfect best friend, who knows exactly what to do when. And James is kind of adorable with his geeky cuteness.

Audrey is a fun, hilarious girl who loves to play her music REALLY loud. Like you-cant-hear-your-parents-knocking-and-the-neighbours-are-putting-up-a-FOR-SALE-sign-on-their-house-and-moving-to-another-block-beacause-they-cant-handle-the-constant-noise-anymore loud. She also has a huge cat named Bendomolena (the name would fit a grumpy old from the last century).

Audrey, Wait! is a Taylor-Swift-like, rolling-on-the-floor-laughing kind of book that doesn't disappoint. It's a fun read, perfect for a sunny day or when you need a laugh.

Bonus: The cover rocks!

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

February 3, 2013

Thirteen Reasons WhyTitle: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: October 18, 2007

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 4.5 of 5 
Amazon Goodreads
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker - his classmate and crush - who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
Hannah's voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and what he discovers changes his life... Forever.
Thirteen Reasons Why
is an unrelenting modern classic. It has won several awards and hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.”
I’ll tell you this up front – Thirteen Reasons Why is dark and emotional, and deals with several heavy issues, few of which are taboo. Nevertheless, it is one of the best books around for young adults.

Hannah’s reasons, when taken apart and examined individually do not seem all that worthy of suicide. However, when they are put together, they create a devastatingly real snowball effect, which in the end, mows Hannah down.

Rumours, assault, betrayal, stalking and rape are few of the issues the book deals with. There is so much negativity, that after a point, you start suspecting every new character that props up. All that occurs in the book has become everyday instances in today's world, but when put together back-to-back, they pack quite a punch.

It all starts from something as simple as a kiss. A rumour. “A rumour based on a kiss ruined a memory that I hoped would be special. A rumour based on a kiss started a reputation that other people believed in and reacted to. And sometimes, a rumour based on a kiss has a snowball effect. A rumour, based on a kiss, is just the beginning.”

The author paints a lovely contrast, between Hannah’s false reputation, which starts in someone’ imagination, and Clay’s reputation, of a studious boy with an excellent image. Two very similar people, but one of them has a stellar reputation, while the other has a no-so-stellar one. Oh, the mysterious ways of the rumour mill.

Hannah is not the depressing character that we would expect. She is very likable, with a sardonic sense of humour. She goes through some very horrible experiences that are bound to leave any person scarred for life. But that’s what I would expect – being scarred for life – not suicide. There are some reasons which I felt were unwarranted and simply a case of being oversensitive. For instance, Courtney Crimsen, one of Hannah’s reasons, is a girl who everyone thinks is a darling, but in truth is a fake who only cares about presenting the perfect image. That, I felt was taking it a bit too far. People, especially young people, can be immense self-serving jerks. We all know that.

I think, after a point, Hannah became so depressed and psychologically messed up that she had her mind set on committing suicide and no longer wanted any help. It think that is how the snowball formed in the first place. She took all these actions too hard, and in her fragility, it pushed her over the edge. She, and in turn, we can almost precisely record her downward spiral.

I used the word ‘fragile’, but Hannah is also weak. She sees totally wrong things happening around her, and does nothing to stop it. And there are times when she can so easily fight back, but she is simply passive and takes it. Even rape. Or should I say ‘consensual’ rape? Because she said not one word, did not one thing to stop it. It was almost like she was looking for reasons to justify suicide.

But I will say one thing. Hannah owns up to her faults too. It was not simply a set of tapes in which she places blame. She accepts her part in taking the blame.This is not some impulsive decision, but well thought out and reasoned. She conscious of everything she is doing and its consequences. She admits that probably no one could have helped her. She says, “And that, more than anything else, is what this all comes down to. Me... giving up... on me.”

Thirteen Resons Why is a thought provoking book that really drives home the message for the average reader. But I wonder if, for those with suicidal thoughts, does it not condone suicide?

Thirteen Reason Why is an emotional roller coaster. The book puts you through an emotional wringer that gets you depressed, sad, thoughtful, angry, makes you cry, and, unexpectedly, even laugh! For such a complex subject, with its intricate reasoning, the author has done a remarkable job of keeping everything straight and not emotionally sluggish. With its face pace, and hard truths, Thirteen Reasons Why is a gritty, suspenseful thriller that I would recommend to anyone.