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Book Reviews for 2011

Posted by RB Kollannur on January 1, 2012


January

1 The Bonfire of Vanities – Tom Wolfe 2/5

Nice story, but liked the movie better. Centers around a bond salesman, who gets in trouble for “running over” a black guy in Bronx. A bit miffed about the ending, though.

2 Justine – Marquis de Sade 0/5

Scintillatingly boring

3 Batman: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore and Brian Bolland 3/5

It is a bit difficult for me to rate a Batman comic, since “The Killing Joke” is the only Batman comic I have read so far. It presents Joker at his best, like in the movie “The Dark Knight”, but struggles to match up to Heath Ledger’s presentation. But then “The Dark Knight” was a very long movie, while “The Killing Joke” is a 46 page book and the former came two decades later and may well have drawn inspiration from the latter.

February

4 Doctor Who and the Masque of Mandragora – Philip Hinchcliffe 2/5

5 N or M? – Agatha Christie 2/5

6 A History of South India: From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar- KA Nilakanta Sastri 2/5

I find Indian history sad. This book isn’t any different, portraying South India chaotic, disorderly and well, illiterate. I would not be surprised if the Republic of Rome in its last century (126-26 BC) churned out more books for history than the subcontinent till 1900.

A nice book to start off understanding the history of South India. It gives an overview of the history till 1600s. However, the book, in its latter part, spends too much time listing down the books written and the monuments built during this time period. I would have preferred if the author had gone deeper into the society of South India, to understand its evolution and growth. Although, that may have not been possibly due to lack of sources at the time of writing (1950s)

On a related note, it would be also be interesting to note how much of Hinduism is copy pasted from Jainism.

7 Istanbul : Memories and the City – Orhan Pamuk 3/5

Pamuk beautifully portrays the recent melancholic past of Istanbul, while lacing it with his own life (Perhaps with some retcon). The feeling of sadness grows on you as the books progresses, as you experience the same melancholy of the author. Though we, in India, do not have to live with the burden of a failed ancient city like Istanbul, it is not unlike the melancholy of a failed civilization.

March

8 Batman: Year One – Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli 3/5

Although the books dwells on the origins of Batman (and Catwoman), it was the backstory of Commissioner Gordon that I impressed me more. Batman is still a work in progress, yet to plunge into the element of darkness that he takes on when he faces the Joker.

9 The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller 4/5 Recommended Read

I did not like the drawing. But the rest of the book was brilliant. The finale, I thought, was well crafted pegging the darkness of Batman and the righteousness of Superman against each other. The book is a multi threaded nightmare of a story, which eventually falls into place by the end, all the while peppered with talking heads intend on caricaturing Batman as the bad guy.

10 The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea – Translated by Wilfred Schoss 2/5

One of the oldest travel guides you can find in the world. Written in the second half of first century AD, it gives a name-place-thing-ruler of the sea route from Suez to India.

11 Caesar: Life of a Colossus – Adrian Goldsworthy 4/5 Recommended Read (For the history buff, especially)

A detailed review of Caesar’s life with an excellent overview of the society that shaped him.

When he was 18, Caesar was told by Sulla to divorce his wife. He refused. Sulla was at the peak of his powers and refusing him would have meant certain death. Still, Caesar refused. Caeasar would grow on to exceed Sulla’s career as a general and, more importantly, as a sovereign, reaching out to the entire Republic of Rome that ruled the shores of the Mediterranean, and not just the elite of the City of Rome that ruled it.

April

12 Moses and Monotheism – Sigmund Freud 3/5

Freud puts forward the idea that Moshe (Moses in Hebrew) was an Egyptian who pushed the Egyptian Aton religion onto Jews. He also says there was another Moshe who introduced volcano god Jahwe to Jews and both these religions would later combine to form Judaism. While he relies mainly on psychoanalysis to show this, there are other facts that do make it sound probable – Circumcision was a common Egyptian custom (Even in third millennia BC) that it is more likely that Jews (and later Muslims) copied it from Ancient Egyptians than be a result of an ancient bond between Abraham and God; Moshe is an Egyptian word meaning “Son”.

I do not accept his psychoanalytic explanation though, because I do not believe individual psychology can be extrapolated to human society like that. Also, he relies on inheritance of memory which is also not proven.

On a side note, it was pretty boring to read his explanation for psychoanalysis. Perhaps an indication of how much it has become part of common parlance since Freud (Or maybe I watched too much Frasier while growing up).

May

13 The Siege – Ismail Kadare 4/5 Recommended Read

In this historical fiction, Kadare takes you to the middle of a medieval siege in Albania and makes you part of it by including you into their lives. It is not just a mere description of a war, but more the story of the life of the soldiers.

14 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro 1/5

Somebody killed this story and I am sure it was the butler who did it.

15 The Revenge of Gaia – James Lovelock 3/5

Though he does fall into propaganda distribution now and then, the book provides the sad tale of the future awaiting humanity. However, the book falls short of showing how continuing our ways can lead to our extinction. At best it can be said a near extinction event can occur. Which is more or less fine, since he then proposes humanity reduce its population to 0.5-1 billion if we overcome the impending global crisis. Personally, I feel many will die, irrespective of climate change or not. We can’t outrun natural selection for ever.

June

16 Danger in Darjeeling – Subhadra Sen Gupta / Tapas Guha 3/5

17 The Epic of Travancore – Mahadev Desai 1/5

It is a bit difficult for a Keralite Christian born 50 years after the Temple Entry Proclamation of the Travancore State to evaluate its significance. But the Act removed untouchability in the state with the stroke of a pen. However, unlike India, the untouchability prevalent in Travancore as well as a the rest of Kerala was more of a religious nature than a social one. In Kerala, restrictions were made on certain parts of the community from approaching temples and worshiping in them (Primarily the poorer sections, but also the upper class Ezhavas). But there were no such restrictions in education and health care and many of the so called “untouchables”, especially among the Ezhava, were well educated.

After giving the context of the Proclamation, Desai who was Gandhi’s secretary during the independence movement, presents several speeches Gandhi gave in Travancore before and after the Proclamation. Mostly philosophical in nature (and repetitive since similar speeches was delivered in different locations), it was curious to note that Gandhi rarely invoked the mythological / Godly side of Hinduism during his speeches.

18 Feluda: Stories – Satyajit Ray 3/5

A nice little mystery book.

19 The Color of Law – Mark Gimenez 2/5

A book behind its time. The Author spent a lot time on unethical work culture of the US legal profession, which in today’s time is fairly well known. He sticks to what he knows best. Would be interesting to see how he can evolve from here.

July

20 The Dark Knight Strikes Again – Frank Miller & Lynn Varley 3/5

More a Justice League book, than a Batman book, The Dark knight Strikes Again continues to pit Batman against Superman but with Lex Luthor now in charge of the latter. The plot developed nicely with Batman re-forming the JL to take on this dystopian Lutherverse, but fizzes out in the end.

21 V for Vendetta – Alan Moore & David Lloyd 4/5 Recommended Read

The Joker story that never got told because he is portrayed to be perfectly sane.

22 Kerala Under Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan – CK Karim 2/5

For a book set out to question the disinformation on the usurpers of Mysore, Hyder and Tipu, it does a creditable job. Unfortunately, the author could have made a better case had he chosen to remain objective about his venture. He belittles the Battle of Nedumkotta of 1789 when the Travancore Lines were held successfully against the Mysore army, as a minor skirmish. It is said Tipu was injured in this battle, though the author puts forward conflicting reports about it to show it may not have been the case. However, he fails to explain the three month delay by Tipu to launch his final assault on the wall. But the biggest spin would be with respect to the road network set up by Tipu as the backbone for trade and commerce in Malabar and better communication between towns. He shows the reliance on manual labor for transportation of goods and comments on the rarity of wheeled traffic. This may have been true, but by doing so he ignores the vast network of waterways that was the backbone of the 2000 year old trade and commerce of Kerala.

On the whole, it does appear while Hyder was a good general, Tipu was a good ruler. But neither had diplomatic skills which led everyone around them to unite in war against them. It also fails in absolving the two of their excesses in Malabar, since the author states clearly that Hyder came to Malabar with conquest in mind. Had Hyder chosen to first develop amity with his neighbors, history of India may have well been considerably different.

On a side note, the author seems to utterly disgusted by the practice of polyandry among the Nairs, though he fails to mention the polygamy of Islam (Though I doubt the Muslims of Kerala ever practiced polygamy).

August

23 Doctor Who and the Crusaders – David Whitaker 2/5

24 Sandman #1: Preludes & Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman 3/5

Dark and playful – Always an amusing combination.

25 Sandman #2: The Doll’s House – Neil Gaiman 3.5/5

Dark and NOT playful. A book seemingly left in the foreshadow.

26 Tales from Firozsha Baag – Rohinton Mistry 3/5

The author captures the lives of the Bombay Parsi community with intricate details and brings them alive in front of the reader.

27 Litanies of Dutch Battery – NS Madhavan 3.5/5 Recommened Read for a Mallu

Read NS Madhavan’s Litanies of Dutch Battery – Historical fiction about an island community off Kochi from 1950. The author gives a real feel about the life of the people from that time, but given its nature as a historical fiction, it need not be taken as the Gospel Truth (Pun intended). The translation is littered with Malayalam and issues that are specific to Kerala of that time, so a non Mallu may not be able to relate easily with it.

28 After the Quake – Haruki Murakami 1.5/5

Six shorts but not quite enough to keep the reader engrossed in the Murakami fantasy universe.

September

29 The Simulacra – Philip K Dick 1.5/5

Time travel can be a mischievous gift, but only if properly used. Got let down with the ending.

November

30 Sandman #3: Dream Country – Neil Gaiman 3/5

31 Sandman #4: Season of Mists – Neil Gaiman 4/5 Recommended Read

32 Sandman #5: A Game of You – Neil Gaiman 2.5/5

33 Dr. Bloodmoney – Philip K Dick 3/5

When it comes to creating dystopian future, Philip K Dick is the master weaver. Yet another book in that genre peppered with racism, destruction and the occasional megalomania.

34 The Cat Who Walks Through Walls – Robert A Heinlein 2/5

The story started off nice enough off but by the middle the author seems to have lost the plot quite literally. Heinlein has filled the second half with another story which has very little connection with the first half.

35 Batman: Under the Hood Volume 1 – Judd Winick 3/5

36 Batman: Under the Hood Volume 2 – Judd Winick 2.5/5

37 Sandman #6: Fables & Reflections – Neil Gaiman 3/5

38 Sandman #7: Brief Lives – Neil Gaiman 4/5

39 Sandman #8: World’s End – Neil Gaiman 3/5

40 God Save the Dork – Sidin Vadukut 4/5

Dork is back, fumbling through his life as a business consultant challenging the norms of the investment banking industry while maintaining an overseas relationship with his girlfriend. The sequel, a laugh riot like the first one, improves on the original with a seemingly dumber version of Dork and scores with a better ending than the first one.

December

41 The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman 4/5

Deliciously enchanting. Jungle Book with a twist, which is how Gaiman calls it.

42 The Forever War – Joe Haldeman 3/5

While the story starts off in a manner similar to Starship Troopers (The movie, not the book), it evolves in a deviant manner. Using a millennium long timeframe, the author beautifully explains the cultural and social changes in society driven purely by war.

43 Sandman #9: The Kindly Ones 3/5

44 Sandman #10: The Wake 4/5

45 Sandman #11: Endless Nights 4/5

Finally started a collection of graphic novels and considerable lesser time to read in comparison to last year, being a businessman and all.

Reading List

Though I may need to find some cure for book shopaholism pretty soon.

Currently Reading

The Alien Years – Robert Silverberg
Stories – Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio (Editors)
Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis
The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Stories – Edgar Allan Poe
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Left Unread (for later)

Notes from Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
The House of the Seven Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Odalisque – Neal Stephenson
Roverandom – JRR Tolkien (Tales from the Perilous Realm)
The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor
The Middle Sea – John Julius Norwich
Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler

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2 Responses to “Book Reviews for 2011”

  1. I’d highly recommend Arkham Asylum, it was my favorite of Batman comics. Heh, for whenever you get through the pile above.

  2. Oh, I intend to read Arkham Asylum once I get a hold of it, but I haven’t come across a copy of the book so far and rarely shop online. 😦

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