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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Brian Cruz post

Unlike many others, I don't touch on personal topics in my blog. However, much has transpired in the past 3 weeks, that warrants a brief heads-up.

On the personal front:
1) The parents arrived for a trip
2) The brother graduated and is well on his way to curing cancer
3) America was explored a little more (Scorecard - 13 states down, 27 to go)

On the blogging (professional?) front:
1) I was mentioned in Sepia Mutiny. Much pleased.
2) My post on nicknames has been using up precious bandwidth. Four people (including my mother and her friend, who is a gentleman of 60) I know received it from people I have never heard of. So I can say - yes, I have truly arrived. Thank you, thank you, you're too kind. Roll camera.
3) I was tagged by the world-renowned author Samit Basu, as part of this meme thing going around the blogsphere. Out of deference to him, I shall actually go ahead and join in this faddishness.

So here I go

Total Number of Books I Own: Hmmmm. Well, this is embarassing. I need to make two points before I come up with a number.
1) Buying books was never an option for me until very recently. One Asimov a year set me back by a month's pocket money in college, and I never found the books on Chowringhee pavements worth picking up. So five years ago, the only books I had were gifted or won. Those add up to approximately 200 books. I am not counting the fantastic collection of a thousand-odd books that I recently inherited from my grandfather.
2) I love libraries and bookstores. I can sit in one for hours on end with a book in hand. In India, I have been thrown out of every major bookstore in every major city at least once for hurting their business. Borders, USA is much nicer in that regard. In my lifetime, about 2,000-3,000 books have been read in this manner, and then I have not bothered buying them. Me - a miser? Nonsense, I only feel that libraries are public goods that need to be made more accessible, and show my support for them by... Oh, all right, I am a little tight-fisted. Lets not dwell on it.

But now, thanks to a salary(?), library sales,, and American editions, I have started buying books with a vengeance. My current ambition is to possess the definitive collection of graphic novels, and that is well underway. Books bought now stands at about 50.

Last Book I Bought: Three together (to qualify for free shipping, I always buy them in threes). They were Ex Machina Vol 1:The first hundred days and Y: The Last Man Vol 4: Safeword by Brian K Vaughan, and 100 Bullets Vol 3: Hang up on the Hang Low by Brian Azzarello. Vaughan can do no wrong these days and he's one of the three writers whose books I look up every week, the other two being Grant Morrison and Bill Willingham.

Ex Machina deals with a world with only one superhero - a man who has the ability to communicate with machines. This man becomes the mayor of New York, winning by a landslide after he stops the second plane from crashing into the WTC. The book then covers his term in office. Won the Eisner award for 2005. In a word - brilliant.

Y: The last Man deals with a world where all the men but one are dead, and chronicles his journey. I've talked about it in a previous post, so shall not elaborate.

100 Bullets is very interesting - it reads like a crime serial rather than a book. Its in its 5th year of 9 and is a runaway critical success. The story is simple - in each episode, a mysterious man gives a person a gun and 100 untraceable bullets, together with undeniable proof that the person has been wronged by someone. The person is told that if he takes revenge, he will go unpunished. Then we see what the person does with the gun. In the background runs a story of the organisation that allows such things to go on.

Last Book I Read: V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore. An all-time classic about an alternate reality in which England is ruled by fascists. The beautiful inversion of the legend of Guy Fawkes is yet another reason why Moore is an all-time great. Soon to be made into a movie by the Wachowskis, starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me: I'm going to define 'Book' a little loosely here. They are, in no particular order

1) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

To call this a must-read would be stating the obvious. Sometime in the last century was born a man whose pulse points passed through his funny bone. This unusual defect caused him to see humour in every possible situation. He was thrown out of school for sniggering loudly during Easter mass, and fired from his first job as an undertaker for cracking jokes about the afterlife. Ultimately, he decided that if he could not be cured, he would infect the world, and so he did. The trilogy in five parts is undoubtedly the funniest piece of non-fiction ever written. To hold a copy in your hands and not roll on the floor is a sure sign of either illiteracy or death. Every line is funny. Even the punctuation is funny. Side-splitting, hilarious and a perennial mood-lifter, this gets prime position in my list. Warning - the next idiot who asks me if I've seen the movie gets a towel passed through his alimentary canal.

2) The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was, simply, the greatest story-teller who ever lived. Stand aside Homer, Ved Vyas, Bill Clinton. I read Asimov's 'Nightfall' at the age of 15, and was hooked for life. This was a man who could write a story on any subject, of any given length, and with a variation in depth ranging from the utterly facetious (George and Azazel) to the wrenchingly moving (Bicentennial Man). His writings include a guide to Shakespeare, a book of jokes, a collected anthology of trivia, articles for Playboy, and some textbook physics to boot. His area of expertise is the short story, but his greatest work, in my opinion is the 14-book long saga that is comprised of the 4 Robot Novels, the 3 Empire Novels and the 7 Foundation Novels. These books span a period of a million years, and also the lifetime of the author (Pebble in the Sky, chronologically the third Empire Novel was his first novel; while Forward the Foundation, chronologically the second Foundation Novel was the last thing he ever wrote before his death in 1992). The core books in this series are the Foundation trilogy, comprising of Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. The beauty of these books lies not in their sci-fi appeal, but in their beleiveable detailing of a decaying human society, and its rebirth. Through these, Asimov proved that his understanding of Social Science is unsurpassed among authors. He planned to extend the saga, but died before he could finish. At the age of 20, I was determined to read every book written by him. Since that number stands at around 600, it is possible my fate will be the same.

3) The Poirot stories by Agatha Christie

One of the most endearing literary characters - the Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head full of little grey cells and the odd mannerisms. Christie almost certainly had a soft spot for Poirot - her most well-known creation, as she kept her best plots reserved for books in which he appeared. And from a woman who excelled at setups that you never ever saw coming, this meant a great deal. The first Poirot book I read was Hickory Dickory Dock, way back in 1986. Since then I have read all the Poirot stories, and most of the ones starring Miss Marple, the Beresfords, Mr. Quinn and all the others. Through her mystery novels, she invented the term "unputdownable". Meals, naps and TV programs were forsaken so that the book could be read. Each page made the suspense more unbearable, until the parlour scene finally ended the suspense. And I always gave myself a pat on the back when I figured out (not guessed) the identity of the murderer. And though she always gave the readers a fair chance to work it out for themselves, I rarely managed. And that was the true charm of Christie.

4) The Uncanny/New/Astonishing/Ultimate X-Men by various authors

I can almost hear you people wondering how this genre, which is strictly infra dig, made it alongside the other greats. Well, get down from your high horse, flatscan - Superhero comics are a rich literature that can touch you in exactly the same way that the printed word can. And no, they are not just for children. In fact, given the trend of comics these days, I think children should not be allowed to read them. This growing-up of comics has much to do with the popularity of those second-tier citizens of the Marvel Universe - the X-Men. Stan Lee created mutants so that he wouldn't have to write a back story to reveal how each character got his powers - mutants had it in their DNA. To start with there were just 5 youngsters led my an enigmatic man in a wheelchair. Now the X-Men number in the hundreds, and have become a sub-culture among superheroes. This has allowed writers to use them to represent our very human prejudices against those who are different. Over the years, the X-Men have stood as a metaphor for blacks, gays, the incurably ill, and nowadays Muslims. The X-Men are very complex characters because they try to help a society that fears and envies them, and leads to a hatred for those things they do not understand. Because there are so many of them, it has allowed authors to explore group dynamics among them, and also to kill off older characters and introduce newer once, so that the X-Men are always interesting. The first X-Men story I read was X-Men:The Hidden Years #1, and there's been no looking back since. For the past two years, Marvel has been publishing 6-8 X-Men titles monthly, and I have yet to miss one.

5) The Five Find-Outers series by Enid Blyton

You always remember your first one, they say. Enid Blyton was the first author whose name I learnt. Her books were the first ones I read which did not have the word 'reader' in their names. The five find-outers - Fatty, Larry, Pip, Daisy and Bets were the first characters I met, and the first ones I felt strongly about. There were only ten books about these intrepid teenaged detectives, and it didn't take me long to finish them. Then it was the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, and all the others. And it was years after that that I realised that Blyton's writing was flawed at many levels. But the thing is, I didn't care. Those were the books that introduced me to reading for pleasure. And I still remember each plot, even though I was 7 when I finished all of them. That is probably the greatest credit to the writer.

Tag Five People And Ask Them To Do This On Their Blogs: Have tagged more than 5, since most of them are lazy bums, and will drag their feet over it. I expect 5 of them to put something up soon. They are -

1) Gati
2) Manish
3) Pratim
4) Rahul
5) Rohan
6) Rupu
7) Sayoni
8) Siddarth
9) Shoma
10) Urmi

May the Force be with them.