Words – are all that matter

Reading and reviewing books for ReedsyDiscovery has become an integral part of my daily schedule. I don’t give it a thought and yet my reading game seems to be spot on. I get the Reedsy Discovery top book reviewers for the month badge when I am least accepting it. I do not count the books I read in a month or compete to get this badge. I just pick up a book that draws me in – be it the book cover or the back cover blurb.

I read parts of a book throughout the day. Each weekend, I carve out a good 3-4 hours to write and publish book reviews. I always have a read and review task on my to-do list. Honestly, it requires discipline, dedication, time, and effort. Yet, it comes effortlessly because it is a cherished interest. It has helped me grow in so many ways.

I have read some brilliant books this year and the stories have stayed with me. I often ponder over the stories or the lessons I garnered from the non-fiction book I consumed.

The most endearing part is that the authors are also thinking about my review of their work. I receive comments and emails from authors and it warms my heart. Many request me to read another of their work or contact me with advanced review copies (ARC) when their new work is ready to be unveiled. It’s a symbiotic author-reader relationship – unique because we only know each other through words.

We build bridges across the world with our words. I can only stand in awe of all the brilliant talent out there and gaze with greedy eyes wanting to consume the brilliance of these works of art and creativity.

When the words beckon

Analysis of the art of reading

Blogger, Tom Johnson, of the I’d Rather be Writing blog recently experimented with reducing his smartphone usage and filled that time with reading. He shares some interesting views in this latest post. I made notes that ended up becoming observations worth sharing.

  1. “Queuing up books” – Been there, still doing it. My eBook library has books for seven lifetimes. Every time I read a good review or hear a recommendation, I grab a copy. The reasonable pricing of eBooks makes piling on the reading list relatively easy. However, looking at the ever-expanding reading list can be stressful. Often, I have this urge to give it all up and just wade through that enormous shelf.

2. “The problem is that my interests evolve from book to book.” This, I believe, is not the problem but the “power” of reading books. It opens new thought vistas and encourages questions. Someone asked me the other day what kind of books I read and my response was “anything that holds my attention.” My taste has increasingly shifted from fiction to nonfiction but I can also devour Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield, cover-to-cover, any time of the day. Reading variety changes the mood and widens our knowledge.

3. “….I decided it wasn’t worth slogging through.” It took me some mental reconditioning to accept that some books are not worth the effort, and some are good in just bits and pieces. I still find it a difficult decision but I have started rationalizing skip-reading and not making it a battle to finish a book that I don’t want to. Tom talks more about this in the section, “Can I skip ahead when bored?”

4. “Buy print versions of audiobooks I enjoyed?” – It’s a personal choice but audible formats don’t hold my attention. Audible versions keep me hooked to my smartphone, which is counterintuitive to the act of reading. I also miss making notes and highlights. I love physical books and buy many on impulse, however, I usually end up with the Kindle version for convenience.

5. “For me, part of the reading experience involves interacting with the book through these annotations. Writing in a book destroys it for resale, but I consider that part of the cost of reading.” – I try to keep my books clean and find a local library to donate or share it with a friend. However, the desire to annotate is as real as Tom describes and this makes eBooks an appropriate choice for me.

6. “I dislike Kindle entirely. Reading from screens is the worst.” This is a universally debatable notion since the birth of the eReader. The eInk technology and the disconnect from any other app or truly workable web access, differentiate a Kindle from a typical screen. I love my Kindle Paperwhite because it powers a more immersive reading experience and is more portable with anytime-anywhere reading. Tom also talks about “How to remember words I look up?” For me, the Kindle highlights and dictionary lookup work well to create a mental map. I can easily search and refresh my memory.

7. “Is reading expensive?” – This is subjective and depends on the format as well as a source of books, for example, libraries, free or discounted eBooks, or used book stores. However, any hobby or pastime involves a monetary angle.

8. “I do think writing reviews would be a good skill to develop, though.” – As a regular book reviewer, I agree with this. It has helped me in developing critical analysis and vocabulary, paraphrasing, and writing in engaging ways. It enables me to pay back to the community of writers, especially self-published, by spreading the word about their work. Book reviews are a beautiful thing to do – for the self and the authors.

9. “Reading is a natural precursor, even a requirement, to writing.” – Always! The more you read the better you write and that’s true for self-review or edits in one’s own writing. The work evolves with each iteration.

10. “What value do non-technical books have on a technical career?” I am glad that Tom raises this question about how book reading as a hobby can help in our technical writing profiles. Well, content strategy, paraphrasing, minimalism, understanding audiences, and trends, are all skills that grow as we expand intellectually. As Tom says, “Perhaps reading helps prime and tune my intellectual engine, which then makes me more capable in performing other tasks (even in writing documentation).”

I enjoyed reading Tom’s article and crystallized my views on the wonderful hobby of reading. Tom’s article has many more points to ponder, for example, is reading passive or are book clubs worth the time. You may find your takeaways or rediscover the lost art of reading. At the end of it, don’t forget to grab a book.

Book Review: Bombay Hangovers

The fragility of the aged, raciness of the illicit, achiness of nostalgia and aging bones, the darkness of lust, tender cares of motherhood, the inevitability of fading youth, travails of escapism, and troubled demons of haunted pasts – each story is woven to create an elaborate tapestry.

Bombay Hangovers

Book: Bombay Hangovers

Author: Rochelle Potkar

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Indian writing in English

Warning: Explicit content

Available at: Amazon.in

Review Copy: Himalayan Book Club

Our world is made up of stories and most have already been told. It takes an exemplary storyteller to bring life to the mundane and the inconspicuous. Unabashed rendering of exotic yearnings, sensitive descriptions of romantic longings, intense emotions of despair, the gravity of age, trappings of secrets, and a gamut of vast emotions, and scenes flow through the pages of Bombay Hangovers by Rochelle Potkar. The book title is reminiscent of a city, clinging to a past, delving in intoxicating memories of humans, with all their flaws and follies, oft succumbing to the power play of destiny.

Exotic words describe marital bonds from early years of lustful romance to the complacency and frustrations of tired householders. The fragility of the aged, raciness of the illicit, achiness of nostalgia and aging bones, the darkness of lust, tender cares of motherhood, the inevitability of fading youth, travails of escapism, and troubled demons of haunted pasts – each story is woven to create an elaborate tapestry. This is not a leisurely read because it digs into the crevices of fears and passions, dreads and desires, showing us a mirror, bringing to life a society that we ignore. Yet, it pulls you in, word-by-word, page-by-page, as it rips away the facade and unmasks the raw truth pulsating in the heart of Mumbai.

The stories delve into different social classes in the city of Mumbai, as it is now known. Metaphors and analogies embellish the book, revealing research and understanding of the nuances of geometrical terms, workings of a cotton mill, the Goan real-estate, the dhobi ghat, the underbelly of city life, just to name a few. Details are rendered with care, without haste, each word conjuring imagery, sometimes leaving you embarrassed, mostly engrossed. The no-holds-barred flourish of a bold pen takes you on a breathtaking journey into the lives of ordinary men and women.

A few typos are glaring, a sudden shift in the person of narration is disconcerting, and you wish these were not there. Amidst all the beauty of the words, I felt the writing could have been tauter in some stories. Some descriptions could be less superfluous, allowing the reader to savor the exquisite composition and leave some space for musings. The comparatively shorter stories are my favorite in this collection of 16, as they are the most impactful. The introduction is exquisitely written though it contains insights into stories so you may want to read it after diving into the book. 

Book Review: Plastic Jesus and Other Stories

Beautifully written stories, capturing the essence of myriad people and their worlds, each ending with a twist, oft with a message.

Book: Plastic Jesus and Other Stories

Author: Judith Ets-Hokin

Genre: Short Stories, Fiction

Review Copy: Reedsy.com

We are all made up of stories. A keen observer of life, Judith Ets-Hokin picks up some interesting ones and brings them to us in a collection with an intriguing name—Plastic Jesus and Other Stories. A medley of 13 stories with an array of themes, Plastic Jesus is a good weekend read.

The stories are of varied length, The Hunt, being the longest, and encompass myriad emotions and terrains. The writing is fluid and deep, with intricately depicted scenes, intense characters, and ebb and flow of emotions showcasing linguistic penchant.

The author breathes life into inanimate objects and nature, but mostly exhibits insights into human emotions. Love, loneliness, grief, loss, fate, ambition, smugness, doubt, independence, self-sabotage, virtue, vice, urbanization—the shifting sands of the stories keep you engaged, as you turn the pages of this slim book.

A story may be open-ended or conclusive, but resist the temptation to hasten to the end; capture the essence of the tapestry of words. I enjoyed a guessing game while navigating the pages, as each character and their space is sensitively worked upon. The first story is my favorite with its element of suspense. In a couple of stories, I felt the ending was predictable and similar.

The joy of the ride is in the beautiful writing; in the delicate balance of saying more in fewer words. Humans are oft in conflict with themselves or with others as they fight for the rights of people and animals. Stories that leave you wondering, fill you with suspense, or grief, or make you wonder—all tightly packed with crisp and meticulous writing.

The storyteller in Judith Ets-Hokin invokes thoughts and weaves in magic, figuratively and literally. She moves around in different walks of life, manifold worlds, myriad people, thus creating stories rich and fulfilling. Special applause for the artistic book cover. Grab your copy for stories—long and short—and enjoy a perfect reading weekend.

Book Review: The Juju Girl

This week, I was on a fascinating journey in New Orleans of the 19th century, with a Creole girl and her Gift. The coming-of-age story of 15-year-old Gabrielle starts from a devastating flood in her hometown of Buras and ends in a New Orleans home.

The Juju Girl

Book: The Juju Girl

Author: Nikki Marsh

Genre: Teens and Young Adult (13+), Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal

Review Copy: Reedsy.com

This week, I was on a fascinating journey in New Orleans of the 19th century, with a Creole girl and her gift. The coming-of-age story of 15-year-old Gabrielle starts from a devastating flood in her hometown of Buras and ends in a New Orleans home. This is a journey filled with magic and hauntings, spells and conjuring, sadness and misgivings. The breezy storyline has much to offer and flows meticulously and swiftly from one chapter to the next, building up curiosity as esoteric elements emerge in the life of the young girl.

The narrative creates vivid pictures of an age gone by, yet so alive. The author does not dwell much on extensive imagery and descriptions, though I felt that descriptive scenes of the ambiance and the rich Creole culture would have given more depth to the work. Maybe I was just craving for more as I became engaged in the travails of the protagonist and her family.

This young adult fiction pulled me in with its smooth and simple language and the possibilities of learning about the culture of the Creoles. As an Indian reader, I could relate to the superstitions and home remedies generously sprinkled all over the book, because we have heard all of them since our childhood. The book refers to the Creoles mixed culture of Indian, African, Spanish, and French origins.

Spooky in good parts, the novel works with a specific set of characters and builds them up well. It is reminiscent of the Classics as it dwells in 19th century America. From simple pranks to dark magic, from overnight remedies to crafted spells, secret rendezvous to clandestine affairs, from a dark past to the hopes of a future, from new friends to strange ones, from travels to worlds unknown to being unaware of the realities around, The Juju Girl, is a perfect weekend read, or to be read in short sprints and savored in parts.

The book maintains its pace throughout; the second half is as engaging as the first. Characters bring forth extra dimensions and paranormal happenings take center stage. This is the story of a family and its tryst with love, longing, death, jealousy, resentment, repentance, and a special gift. As secrets unfold, true colors revealed, they put friendships and relationships to test, culminating in the confrontation between the powers from beyond and Gabrielle’s Gift.

I thoroughly enjoyed this light young adult book; oft reading late into the night after a long day at work and that is a testimony to the fact that the book enthralls. As an avid web series watcher, I could not help but think that how well this book would translate into a televised fantasy series. It is the perfect blend of youth, drama, charms, and spells!

It also occurred to me that the character of The Juju Girl has just arrived. There is potential to build on the character and take Gabrielle on a whirlwind journey around the globe with her gift. I am hoping to read more in the series; a book that wants you to read and know more is definitely one to have on your reading list.

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