Asian Writers

June is dedicated to authors with ASIAN ORIGIN....review of books in this category will be posted all month....

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tuesdays With Morrie & Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom

Rating - * *

I decided to review both books together, primarily because ( no particular order)

• the underlying theme is more or less same
• they are both by the same author
• and because I read both of them within ten days of each other

It’s not that I hadn’t heard about the books till a month ago, I had. And many times I had picked it up from the shelf in a bookstore only to replace it with a catchier, relevant and less preachy book. Probably I was not in the frame of mind to learn about humanity, morality and the other –tys- that are out there in the world.

The premise of the book Tuesdays with Morrie, is about a dying old teacher and his student and the exchange that follows between them during the last few months. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not great either. The lessons, the good values, family, love et al -I have heard it before - in school, our parents and even my boss! So there's nothing new in the book for me. Neither is the story. I am guessing all dying people grow wisdom tooth and then take it upon themselves to dispense this new found wisdom and love to people around them or rather whoever is willing to listen. What strikes me as strange is that, Morrie had a full life, and a life in which he had in general been a good person and a teacher. So what was different about the last few months? Probably the only difference was that the student, i.e. the author Mitch, viewed it from a different perspective after having gone through the metamorphosis of a student to a working adult. Yes, I have to concede that Morris's illness was not pretty, and that requires courage.
I had seen the movie some six years ago, and I still remember that it had made an impact on me that time (although the impact didn’t last long). But the book failed miserably in this respect. It’s one of the rare examples of a movie being better than the book. Watch the movie, skip the book.


Five people you meet in heaven is better than TWM. There’s a story and there is the karma factor. What you do has wider implications and our actions affect more people than we think it does. I agree to this thought and it is well corroborated by the people whom Eddie meets in heaven. The people whom he meets are those with whom he had close bonds to those whom he had never interacted directly, yet each of these lives intertwined and touched and transformed each other. The writing is simple, its not as preachy as TWM and that’s why it is a better and quick read. There are some touching moments, but they are fleeting, at times the stories get stretched out (the one with his wife, surprisingly enough. Also it didn’t really have any message that I could decipher) and at times they are real short (the blue man). When you finish the book it will leave you with questions - about fate, about people, about life, about work and about yourself. Try to find answers, maybe then you won’t be as confused as Eddie about life's purpose.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Last Lecture - Randy Pausch

Rating - * * *

This book is all about fullfilling your dreams. I wont restrict it to merely childhood dreams, but just about any dreams that we dreamt, either as a child, a teen or an adult. In a simple style, Randy Pausch talks about how he achieved his. The book is filled with anecdotes, some funny, some enlightening and some touching moments.
Randy Pausch is not someone who belongs to the league of the likes of Bill Gates. Yes, he is brilliant than the average people and has the charisma that’s difficult to find, yet he does not preach. In fact he stays away from this line. He talks about his negative traits - his cockiness, his arrogance, things which he still working calling himself a "recovering jerk". He does dispense advice, in a matter-of-fact way...but he has the interest of his students in his heart. It’s not like the things he has written about - hard work, humility, earnestness, being what we are - is not something that we didn’t hear before, we did, and we all reacted to it in the predicted way - rolling the eyes. In his non-coercive way he made me identify with him, the things that he did as a kid and making me want to have an attitude like him for the life that we are blessed with it. He didn’t have a great childhood in terms of being lavished with whatever he wanted. He grew up with restrictions but still saw the bright side.

When I think back, I find it hard to recall when it was last that I wrote a hand written letter, a card or a note. Yet I always look for the yellow sticky-note in any documents that I receive from my father. It’s the small remind-me note that he uses which has just two line - but handwritten, signed with a "take care, Papa" or something similar. A simple note but something that I cherish. That’s why when Randy Pausch emphasized in his lecture, the importance of a handwritten note, I knew what he meant. In today's world, a handwritten thank you note is priceless - simply because not many people thank each other these days and the number of people who actually take the pain to write it is even less, assuring us that the feeling is genuine.

Growing up, when I saw my other friends having more relaxed rules, I used to feel jealous and used to grumble. But in this grumbling I perhaps missed out the subtle changes that these so called rules brought within me and helped shape up some of the good traits (whatever little) that I have... None of us are born with an ideal life - a happy childhood, a successful career, a happy married life and so on - we have to work hard in each of these phases and make the best of what we get. Life is too short to sit around and whining about it.

One day we may wake up to realize that we have just 3 months to live and if that be the case can our last lecture be equally satisfactory?. We can, if we decide too, for in Randy Pausch's world it is never too late. Perhaps we can’t change the cards we are dealt, but we can change the way we play the hand....

Monday, May 18, 2009

Heck-No!

Five of the worst books I have read, totally my opinion which may be contrary to popular belief..
My Name is Red
Suicidal. Afterr ccompleting the book the only feeling I was left with was that as a reader I should have been the one who should have been awarded the Nobel Prize. I am not sure which part of the book can justify the Nobel Prize for literature that was awarded to it... The book starts on an interesting note, with a murder and then after a few chapters rambles on and on about the artists and manuscripts and after a point you stop caring about who the murderer was and want either to finish the book or throw it away... I almost threw it away, but because of some reason unknown to me, I managed to complete the book and managed to stay alive as well. Heck-no for this book.

King of Torts
Mediocre.This one was a disappointment. Being a John Grisham fan, I was looking forward to reading his book after a long time, but this one was a big let down. Neither did the characters appeal nor did the story, not to forget the portrayal of the women in this book being very stereo-typically male. I havent recovered from the shock of having read this book, and though it has been years, I havent picked up any more Grisham books after this one. Avoid this one.


Interpreter of Maladies
Boring.Quite a few people like it, I think it was very mediocre. Definitely not worth the attention it got, with the Pulitzer. The stories are average, the writing even more and if you dont read this one, you havent missed anything. Its boring, with the oft-repeated and now too common theme of Indians settled overseas who miss their culture,country et al...and stories that end abruptly and leave you with wondering what it was all about. Read it if you have nothing better to do.

Until I Find You
Gross. Thats the one word that comes to my mind when I think about this book. Its given that when you read Irving's books, the characters are not commonplace and have a twisted and convoluted feel about them. But for me this one crosses the limit. The graphic details of the 8-something Jack and his sexual encounters left me feeling very uncomfortable and disgusted. Its a big voluminous book that gets repetitive and seems to have its own flow that doesnt seem to be going in any direction. Pick up another of John Irving's book instead and if you have read them all then re-read it, just to avoid this one.

Eleven Minutes
Crap. Paulo Cohelo is famous for a reason I cant fathom and this book makes me even more curious. It has a very stale storyline - innocent girl from small town is fooled into becoming a bar/prostitute. Give me a break. Why cant writers think up of something new? And why do such mediocre stuff get the attention it doesnt even deserve. I couldnt finish the book and at the first chance that I had, I offloaded it to a friend and havent seen it since. And boy am I glad.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Did you fail to succeed? Blame your culture....

So you are not successful as you thought you would be? Go ahead and blame it on your family, friends, ethnicity and God. At least thats what Malcolm Gladwell's in his book "Outliers" suggests.
The book is about what makes an outliers. It’s replete with statistical data and anecdotes that make it an interesting read if one ignores the fact that not all examples cited in this book are outliers (someone who is not just successful but super-successful), the lack of objectivity in the research and Gladwell’s claim that it’s not talent that makes someone a success. Per Gladwell, to be an outlier you need to be born at a particular period in time, be lucky to be born in a family and society that has been blessed with the right cultural and ethnic advantage or disadvantage, and work hard for atleast 10,000 hours. It’s this basic premise that fails to ring a bell for me and the book falls short of delivering.

The book meanders from a community in Pennsylvania to Canadian Hockey to Bill Gates, Chris Langan and then on to the Jewish and Asian communities and finally a chapter dedicated to Gladwell’s own roots. The examples cited in each case is interesting to say the least and Gladwell is a great story teller and he almost manages to convince his readers. Almost, because there is clearly a disjoint between the stories and the reader is left to join the dots, unsuccessfully, and figure out the significance and credibility of some of the incidents mentioned, and also because after a point Gladwell gets repetitive.

While stating the obvious that it’s not mere talent but hard work and luck as well, Gladwell underplays talent to a great degree and stresses on socio-economic reasons, which are often beyond the control of an individual, and to propose that success is not an individual feat but hugely dependent upon luck, IQ, family etc is not a comforting thought. One can’t help but wonder if Gladwell used only that data that bolsters his theory and ignored the many examples that don’t? For example, Sergey Brin the founder of Google was born in 1973 and also happens to be of Jewish origin. He was not born at the right time i.e. 1953-54 nor did he have the historical advantage that was the reason, per Gladwell, for the success of Jews in New York. Yet he is the co-founder of the biggest internet based company in the world today.

Indeed Gladwell has a mesmerizing way of articulating and although one doesn’t feel convinced about Gladwell’s theory yet quite a few of the examples are thought provoking and leave us looking at success in a different light and agreeing with him at some level that it’s not just about talent all the time.