The Story of Human Bondage

In Of Human Bondage, William Somerset Maugham tells a story of a young man who spends his life trying to find his true calling. We traverse through his life in his own words, seeing it as he did, through the eyes of a young orphaned child living with his uncle who is a vicar and wants him to follow in his footsteps, to the man he finally becomes.

This young boy moves out of his uncle’s house and to follow his passion or what he believed to be his calling. He finds some semblance in art but that doesn’t give him the life he wants. He takes up an interest in medicine and starts to study to be a doctor. Then he dabbles in the stock market and loses all his savings. Being absolutely broke he is driven to take up a job at a retail store but his special skills are noticed and he does well enough to sustain himself. Once stable, he sets out again.

Throughout all this, he makes some interesting friends who shape his thinking and open his mind to the wonders of literature and travel. His ultimate goal thus being formed of him being able to travel to Spain one day.

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The Story of the Song of Solomon

All human relationships come down to it. Would you save my life? Or Would you take it?

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is set in a time in America, when even though slavery was abolished, the coloured people led a life far from being free or fair. They didn’t get justice like the whites did, nor were they treated equally, still barred from entering certain places or buying property. What was theirs was being taken from them by the whites just because the latter didn’t believe that the former deserved it, especially and only because of their colour.

At such times was born Macon Dead, the protagonist of this story who lives a rather privileged life being the grandson of the only Doctor in their clan and son of a wealthy real estate businessman. The book is about Macon’s life, of his lack of empathy towards ‘coloured people problems’ because he hasn’t had to face any, his disinterest towards his own history or the relevance of it in his life, his inability to understand why the people around him – his father, his mother, his sisters, his aunt, his lover or his best friend – are the way they are, always angry within, always seeking some form of justice. He isn’t stupid. He is just your regular unsympathetic observer.

Macon on ‘Deserving’

And then the change happens.

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The Story of a Moonstone

Moonstone, written in the early 19th century by Wilkie Collins is a detective story where instead of a detective solving the crime, it’s the readers who discover the thief through a series of narrations. A very interesting way to put it. And quite skillful too

The plot starts with how the Moonstone comes into the hands of a Colonel, through a series of plunder of the Hindu temples that happened during the 600 yr rule of the Mughals and British in India. It then talks of its journey to England and there it is bequeathed to the Colonel’s niece during her 18th birthday. She receives it on her birthday dinner but the following day, it is found to be missing. Who stole it, How did it find its way out of the house into a banker, Who then recovers it, forms the rest of the plot

Moonstone Wilkie Collins, #moonstone, #wilkiecollins #bookedfor100
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The Story of a Hitchhiker and the Galaxy

… This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And that’s how this book starts. A mad mad book. Absolutely hilarious and with a logic so warped that you give up on it, Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy sci-fi adventure novel (if there is such a genre in the first place that is) that redefines all three – comedy, sci-fi and adventure.

It starts off with our hero, Arthur Dent, being whisked away by his friend Ford Prefect (who is in fact an alien who is desperate to get out) onto a spaceship minutes before his house and all of Earth for that matter is demolished to make way for an Intergalactic Highway. Imagine being so insignificant that the entire planet is nothing more than a boulder to be pushed out of the way in the whole scheme of events in the universe. Puts individual problems into perspective.

Moving on, Arthur Dent finds himself in this spaceship with another human being and a two headed President of the Galaxy who is on the run for stealing the very spaceship they are in. Together with a depressed robot (yes, depressed robots. You’d be depressed too if you are made to do menial tasks like bringing tea when you have the brain with a functioning capability of a planet) they set out on a journey to find, well, with no particular purpose at all.

And this madness is only the beginning. What follows is not just a plot that beats all the obvious predictions you can make as a story unwinds, but also a style of writing that leaves you part laughing part snickering at the turn of every page. Dry wit. At its best. Douglas Adams is my absolute favourite when it comes to humour and creativity. Read him once and you’ll know why he has the cult following that he does.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, bookedfor100, blog about books, #bookedfor100, #douglasadams #HitchhikersGuidetotheGalaxy #HGTTG
Somewhere in the middle of the book, you find a statement like this…
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, bookedfor100, blog about books, #bookedfor100, #douglasadams #HitchhikersGuidetotheGalaxy #HGTTG
… followed by this
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The Story of a Stranger

Albert Camus’s French masterpiece, L’Etranger translated into English as The Stranger has an interesting synopsis. It says that it is about ‘The nakedness of a man faced with the absurd’.

The Stranger by Albert Camus #thestranger #mersault #albertcamus #bookedfor100 #100bookstoread #top100bookstoread booked for 100 #blogaboutbooks #bookreview

When I read this, there were a lot of situations that I drew up in my mind; situations which could qualify as ‘absurd’, and I was curious what kind of nakedness would each bring about. But as you read the book and turn the last page, you realise the extent of absurdity that Albert Camus scripted into the life of his central character – Mersault, who finds himself stuck in an irretrievable place in life; a no-turning-back moment. The cause and effect of that moment and the judgment meted out to it. The absurdity stares you in the face.

This novel is a narration of a series of events that happen in Mersault’s life starting with his mother’s death. As you go through the narrative, mostly in his words, you begin to see two sides to the whole story. How he sees it and how the world perceives it. He sees it as it is, as a natural progression of thoughts and events, a logical approach to accept or not accept someone who is seeking to listen or talk. The world, however, perceives it with all the baggage it carries. It is unfair from the start.

Like how when a little kid doesn’t cry when hurt, it is assumed that the wound must not have been deep enough, that the pain must not have been much. Not for a minute, not even for a second do we pause to think that probably this kid has seen much more such that this pain isn’t as much, or the kid is too numb to shed a tear, or the kid is actually strong and is holding back his tears, or plain and simple, the kid is so exhausted from a lot of other things that aren’t going right in his life that he is just too tired to cry. Just far too tired.

But no. It’s always no tears implies no pain. No outward show of sympathy indicates that there is nothing inside.

And having nothing inside is apparently a far bigger sin than having something bad. For good or bad means that the heart is full in some sense of the word. But empty? Oh, so dangerous.

Is it afterall a sin to be aware that everything eventually culminates into nothingness?

You might wonder what is it that I am rambling about. For those who have read the book, they know. They know what I am talking about. And I am sure they resonate.

The Stranger by Albert Camus #thestranger #mersault #albertcamus #bookedfor100 #100bookstoread #top100bookstoread booked for 100 #blogaboutbooks #bookreview

For those who haven’t, please pick it up. And when you do, read it at one go and brace yourself for the end. The end when Mersault’s nakedness is revealed. You can hear his screams. You can feel his resigned breathing. And you can sense the numbness of the finale.

One of those books that stay with you long after you’ve closed it. Pick it up. It’s something you shouldn’t miss.


The Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities is a story set during the French Revolution when the oppressed common folk could no longer withstand the apathy of the ruling class and took over the castle and imprisoned everyone who seemed affluent. The latter’s fault being that they were not poor. The charges being that, for generations, they did nothing to better the lives of everyone around them. The accusations being that they abused, physically and mentally, the poor. All those who faced these charges were thrown into the prisons and sentenced to death, with no formal hearing or justification. To be executed. In public. By the strike of the guillotine christened as La Guillotine – a symbol of their freedom. Execution soon becomes the need of the hour, feeding La Guillotine with hundreds of heads becomes the only thing they look forward to every day. Human nature takes a beating. Society as a whole takes a beating.

When humans are suppressed for a long long time and are treated as nothing less than animals, they become that. In fact, they become worse. No sympathy, no law of the land, no compassion, no conscience and most importantly no forgiveness.

And in between this rises a story of love.

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How to get over a Reader’s Block

I didn’t know a concept called Reader’s Block existed till I went through a slump myself. For someone who loves books like I do, not being able to read regardless of having dedicated time for it is a very strange feeling. Ever been through something like this before?

It’s raining on a pleasant day, you sit by the balcony, on your bean bag, doors open, legs stretched out into the balcony, a soft spray of rain occasionally falling on your feet, like the winds are trying to tease you with a kiss, and you have a nice steaming cup of coffee beside you, your favourite book in hand, and as you read you are not able to move beyond those first lines. Not able to go into that world, not able to see those characters, hear their voices say those lines. You are just reading the first few lines over and over again. And you get worried. Worried because you know you couldn’t find a better situation to be in and yet there seems to be no interest to do what you love the most. It’s the kind of feeling that’ll set you on a panic mode.

How to get over a Reader's Block, Booked for 100, #bookedfor100, #readers block

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A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is a satirical novel about young teenage boys who go on an orgy of violence for the sheer thrill of it and get caught by the state but are ‘reformed’ in a questionable manner. Like a character ponders,

Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? 

The novel is split into three parts – His violent escapades, his prison life after he is caught and sentenced for 14 years and his life after he has been ‘reformed’ as part of an experiment. The story starts with a bunch of teenage boys led by Alex, the most deranged of them all, setting out on a series of bludgeoning, fights, brutal rapes, thefts, destruction of property, and other such acts of violence just as a way of entertainment. On one such night he gets caught in the act and is sentenced to a lifetime of prison. There however he puts up an act of goodness and is chosen for an experimental reforms programme led by the government. Though seen by him as an escape route to get back to his life and its thrills, after the programme he becomes incapable of enjoying anything, even music that he unabashedly loved. Is such a life worth it? Can a criminal so mentally disturbed be ‘cured’? You begin to wonder.

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The Story of Siddhartha

What more do I write about this book except that it is an experience. An experience of living in the mind of a person who is out to seek the meaning of life, who is on a path of self awakening. It is as simple as that and yet not.

Hermann Hesse in his book Siddhartha takes us through Siddhartha’s life as he leaves behind his family and comforts to seek answers to his existence, to learn the ultimate truth.

Siddhartha isn’t Gautam Buddha, as one may be led to believe considering the name is the same, the story is similar and the cover picture is deceptive. But after you read the book you realise the true meaning of that cover, and I’ll let you decipher that for yourself.

Interestingly they both live in the same time and their paths do cross. And as much as Siddhartha admires The Buddha, he still sets out to find answers on his own with the basic belief that he has developed – that wisdom cannot be taught by any teachings, it has to be attained, be learned by oneself. Be truly understood by the self. Because once put into words, it loses its complexity as mere words cannot do justice to its depth.

In his journey he encounters his many teachers or influences – Govinda, his friend and follower who sets out on his own path and follows Gautam Buddha, the Samanas or ascetics who live in the forests, Kamala, the courtesan who has found peace, Kamaswami, the merchant who introduces him to trade and the many lusts of human existence, Vasudev, the ferryman who in his simplicity possesses far more knowledge than can be taught. Each of them has a role to play in his awakening and he leaves each character with more to give than take from. Learnings from the most unassuming of sources. His conversation with Kamala where in he says,

“You are life me, you are different from most people. You are Kamala, nothing else, and inside of you, there is a peace and refuge to which you can go to at every hour of the day and be at home inside yourself, as I can also do. Few people have this, and yet everyone could have it.”

Makes you want to believe that there is more to a person than what we see. In fact these words made me want to seek that ‘peace’ myself.

Hesse’s descriptions are just amazing. They take you with them. For instance there is a sequence where he talks of Siddhartha’s meditative experience when he transcends beyond his body and floats into the sky and dwells inside a heron and lives its life and begins to see the world through its eyes. You’ve read my words, now go and read Hesse’s and you’ll understand how much more interesting and read he has made this very experience. I had to pause and pull myself out.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, booked for 100, #bookedfor100, #siddhartha #hermannhesse

Does this book take you on a path of self realisation? I don’t know. It didn’t really push me to it. But does it give you a peep into the mystical workings of the mind of an awakened soul and its path to enlightenment? Oh yes. And so poetically at that.

A quick quick read. And a poignant one at that. Enjoy!



Photos: Remya Nair


The Story of a Beloved

A masterpiece. Oh it is a masterpiece!

Toni Morrison in Beloved tells us the story of a slave family during the times when slavery was being abolished; when they’ve lived such a life and didn’t know how to live otherwise or are still living in the aftermath of what they went through. A time, when legally slavery was done with, but society still had a long way to go in terms of realigning ideologies.

Subtle realities hit you in the passing. Brutal realities. Things that happened to them, choices they had to make, blatant hypocrisy they had to accept as normal, everything hits you. When one of the characters talks of freedom as

“To get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire. That was freedom”

You begin to realise how deprived they were.

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The Story Of The Animal Farm

Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of the two scariest books I have read. The other being another novel by the same author which I will be writing about later on. Coming back to this one. Scary. Yes. That is the word. But it isn’t a horror story. Nor a thriller. Or a murder mystery.

It is pure and simple facts. A reality that is so bare and true that it scares the hell out of me every time I read it. Published in 1945, this story can be seen playing out for real even now.

Animal Farm is the story of a farm where the animals feel suppressed by the Humans who own the farm and make them toil but don’t given them their labour’s worth of food and rest. So they decide to revolt against the owners, take over the farm and demonstrate how it should be run. With dreams of equal rights and benefits and a bright future, the set out to achieve the same.

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