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Archive for January, 2019

My journey into Batman folklore continues. The third consecutive Batman book that I read was ‘The Dark Knight Returns‘. Frank Miller’s reimagining of the Batman myth created a lot of waves when it first came out in 1986 and is regarded as an iconic book now.

In the story told in the book, Batman has retired and is fifty years old now. Harvey Dent and the Joker are in an asylum now. Selina Kyle is running an escort service. Jim Gordon is nearing retirement from the police service. A new wave of crime hits Gotham City. A new gang of people are doing bad things. Batman comes back from retirement and tries to protect the city. But the public is divided – some people feel that Batman is good for the city while others feel that he is a criminal himself for taking the law into his own hands. Jim Gordon is on Batman’s side. But the incoming Police Commissioner Ellen Yindel wants to arrest Batman. Before long, Harvey Dent and the Joker are out of the asylum and back to their nasty tricks. There is also some tension between the two superpowers of the Cold War era. And things start going bad for everyone.

I found ‘The Dark Knight Returns‘ quite interesting. It is an iconic book because it took a superhero comic and made it into a comic for grownups. It is sometimes dark, it is more violent than classic Batman comics, it offers commentary on the society and the politics and international affairs, which were all new at that time. There is even a nuclear bomb exploding, a 9/11 type plane crashing into a skyscraper, a nuclear winter, an imagination of the scenario in which the Cuban Missile Crisis situation is not defused but explodes. These are fascinating things. It is almost epic in scope. The other superhero Superman makes an appearance at one point in the story and there are some interesting scenes between the two gentlemen. In one scene, Bruce Wayne even takes a dig at Clark Kent. There are some stylish scenes and cool dialogues in the book. (I am sharing a few below.) The underlying theme – Bruce Wayne coming back from retirement and becoming Batman again to fight crime – reminds one of the Roman general Cincinnatus, who came back from his life as a farmer and took charge of the army and defeated the enemies and then handed over authority and went back to his farm. Or it is probably more closer to Michael Kohlhaas taking on the establishment and fighting for the common man in Heinrich von Kleist’s eponymous novella. It is inspiring and we can’t stop backing the aging Batman. These were all good things in the book. I liked the book for these things. But I didn’t really love the book and I am not able to rave about it, because there were too many things stuffed into it and I really hated Superman being part of the story. Batman and Superman are two very different people and they don’t belong in the same story, in my opinion. But I enjoyed the stylish scenes and would love to explore more of Frank Miller’s work, especially, his noir series, ‘Sin City‘, because his cool style will really work there. The ending of the story is very fascinating and must have been very unusual for its time.

After reading three consecutive Batmans I am getting Batman fatigue now. I have one more book left and once I get through that, I will go back to reading books that no one else reads and normal service will resume in these parts.

Have you read ‘The Dark Knight Returns‘? What do you think about it?

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2018 was a wonderful reading year for me. Though, in a general way, I felt that I read less, and I had multiple reading slumps through the year, when I look at my reading list now, I feel that it was a spectacular year. I wanted to read around 70 books and I read 71. It was way more than what I had read the previous year or in recent years. I also read some thick chunksters which I had wanted to read for a long time. Most important of these was ‘Collected Fictions‘ by Jorge Luis Borges, which I had wanted to read for a very long time. I am glad that I am finally able to cross it off my list. I also read a significant number of Kindle books, which was a new experience for me. At one point, I think I read 10 straight Kindle books. Every year, I make a list of my favourite books. I love most of the books I read and so it is always a struggle to leave out books which I loved. So, this year, instead of making a favourites list, I decided to just share my reading list from 2018, with a brief description of each book. If a particular book didn’t work for me, I have mentioned that.

So, here is my reading list from last year.

Reading List

Fiction

Literary Fiction

(1) The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig – Stefan Zweig is one of favourite authors and I was so happy to read all his novellas together.

(2) Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi – One of the great works of the twentieth century which deserves to be more famous. Firdaus is one of the most haunting characters in literature.

(3) The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa – A beautiful, charming ode to food.

(4) Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – A beautiful love story, Goethe style.

(5) And the Ocean was Our Sky by Patrick Ness and Rovina Cai – A retelling of the Moby Dick legend from the whale’s perspective. The whale is called Bathsheba. And she is awesome.

(6) Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neumann – A beautiful road novel about family and love.

(7) In the Beginning was the Sea by Tomás González – A beautiful novel by a Columbian writer who is not called Marquez.

(8) The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – Krauss’ finest novel probably. This sentence from it – “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering” – is probably one of the most famous sentences in contemporary fiction.

(9) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Atwood’s masterpiece. Tells you what ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum‘ means.

(10) Julius Winsome by Gerard Donovan – A beautiful haunting novel about love and revenge. A beautiful discovery for me, thanks to fellow raccoon, Renuka.

(11) Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park – A road novel about love and family set across a snowy landscape.

(12) Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – An insightful, powerful novel about the African-American condition. Who can resist this title?

(13) The Last Days by Laurent Seksik – A novel which describes the last days of Stefan Zweig. So moving and haunting.

(14) A Long Blue Monday by Erhard von Büren – A beautiful novel about growing up in Switzerland.

(15) Manju by M.T.Vasudevan Nair – A beautiful novel about life and love and being a single woman.

(16) The Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov – An interesting literary thriller. I can’t remember how it ended! Need to read it again.

(17) The Brother by Rein Raud – A revenge thriller. My first Estonian book.

(18) Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner – My first Faulkner. Didn’t go well because it was written in stream-of-consciousness style. One of my friends says that Faulkner is the greatest American writer of the 20th century. Another friend says that Faulkner is one of her favourite writers. I admire them both. So I am hoping to read more Faulkner this year. Hoping that my next Faulkner goes better.

Historical Fiction

(19) Exit Lady Masham by Louis Auchincloss – A beautiful historical novel about how the queen’s maid becomes the most powerful person in the kingdom. An interesting account of a fascinating period in English history.

(20) Beaten by a Beard and other stories by Nandini Sen Gupta – A unique book because it is a collection of historical short stories. All of them are based on real events which are not so well known. A brilliant work.

Short Stories

(21) The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig – Brilliant collection, which is also chunksterish. Loved every page.

(22) The Stories of Ray Bradbury – I finally read this after getting it years back. Such a brilliant collection which showcases Bradbury’s storytelling skills.

(23) Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges – Finally got to read the Master’s complete fiction. So brilliant.

(24) The First Person and other stories by Ali Smith – My first Ali Smith book and I loved it. Can’t wait to read more of her works.

(25) My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead : Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro edited by Jeffrey Eugenides – A wonderful collection of love stories. Some of the stories didn’t work for me but the others were amazing.

(26) The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat and other stories from the North edited by Sjon and Ted Hodgkinson – A collection of Scandinavian short stories. Beautiful collection and a gorgeous edition.

(27) When Women Speak Up : A Women’s Web Collection of Inspiring Stories edited by Sandhya Renukamba and Aparna Vedapuri Singh – An beautiful collection of stories by women writers. So wonderful and inspiring.

(28) A Bride for One Night : Talmud Tales by Ruth Calderon – A collection of stories from the Talmud narrated both in their original form and in a contemporary form. Very fascinating.

(29) Flame Tip by Karenlee Thompson – A collection of stories about Australia’s bushfire. Very haunting.

Contemporary Fiction

(30) The Day Money Died by Percy Wadiwala – A novel about demonetization. Very stylish and charming.

Romance

(31) Undying Affinity by Sara Naveed – Sara Naveed is sometimes described as the Romance Queen of Pakistan and this novel shows why. Very charming and romantic novel with stylish and cool characters.

Young Adult

(32) In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner – A novel about art and love and depression, it is beautiful, dark and intense. Gae Polisner moves outside of her earlier sunny young adult landscape and enters a dark, intense, almost Tabitha Suzuma-ish territory with this book. Can’t wait to find out whether her next book will continue to explore this new landscape. This book also has these beautiful lines – “We can only make ourselves happy. We can’t save others. We can love others. But we can only save ourselves.

Science Fiction

(33) The Stone Gods by Jeannette Winterson – My first Winterson. It was good, but not necessarily amazing, though there was a mind blowing surprise in the end. Need to read more Winterson.

Fantasy / Fairy Tales

(34) Unfairy Tales by T.F.Carthick (Karthik Lakshminarayanan) – One of my favourite retelling of fairytales. Very unique, unconventional and charming.

Inspirational Fiction

(35) Out of My Mind : The Discovery of Saunders-Vixen by Richard Bach – Read a Bach book after a long time. It was inspiring. Made me want to take flying lessons. I even started doing research online on flying schools 😁

Plays

(36) The Collected Plays of Sujatha – Beautiful collection of plays by this master. This is the first time I am reading his plays and they were brilliant.

Poetry

(37) Ask Me : 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford – One of my favourite discoveries last year. Stafford’s poems are so beautiful.

Crime Fiction

(38) Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter – My first Inspector Morse novel. Very interesting.

(39) Agatha Christie : Shocking Real Murders Behind Her Classic Mysteries – An illustrated book which is a must read for every Agatha Christie fan.

(40) Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson – An old classic. It had an interesting premise, but it didn’t work for me.

Graphic Novels

(41) Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel and Manu Larcenet – A dark, bleak book with brilliant, haunting artwork. One of my alltime favourite graphic novels.

(42) Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi – A new discovery for me. A collection of Manga short stories that offer commentary on the human condition. Very fascinating and insightful. I want to read more of Tatsumi’s works.

(43) Chi’s Sweet Home, Volume 1 by Kanata Konami – A charming story about a stray kitten which is adopted by a family.

(44) Illegal by Eoin Colfer – Colfer’s experiment into new territory. Very beautiful.

(45) Amla Mater by Devi Menon – A charming novel about being Indian.

Comics

(46) Asterix (the first six volumes) by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo – My structured exploration of the Asterix canon. Charming experience for me.

(47) XIII (the first six volumes) by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance – The first part ‘The Day of the Black Sun‘ is one of the most gripping and haunting graphic novels of all time. But the story dips after a while and by the end of volume 5, the writers are really scraping the barrel. There are atleast 12 more volumes left. Need to find out how they are. But that first volume – that is one of the greatest stories ever written.

Children’s Literature

(48) One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll : A Celebration of Wordplay and a Girl Named Alice by Kathleen Krull and Júlia Sardà – A charming book and a must read for Lewis Carroll fans.

Nonfiction

Memoir / Journal

(49) Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton – A beautiful, meditative, contemplative journal. One of my favourite discoveries of the year.

(50) Stammered Songbook : A Mother’s Book of Hours by Erwin Mortier – A haunting, heartbreaking memoir about the author’s mother’s descent into dementia.

(51) The Wine Lover’s Daughter : A Memoir by Anne Fadiman – Anne Fadiman’s charming memoir of her dad.

(52) Adrift : A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea by Tami Oldman Ashcraft – An inspiring story about how a woman is lost at sea and how she survives that.

(53) Summer Before the Dark by Volker Weidermann – A description of a particular summer when a few Austrian and German writers get together.

(54) Stranger on the Square by Arthur and Cynthia Koestler – Koestler’s last book. Interesting.

Sport

(55) Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby – A great love letter to football. Must read for every football fan.

(56) What We Think About When We Think About Football by Simon Critchley – An intellectual look at football. Not as good as ‘Fever Pitch’ but still very interesting.

Essays

(57) The Cockleshell by Robert Lynd – I finally read a complete collection of Robert Lynd’s essays. Infinitely charming.

(58) Upstream : Selected Essays by Mary Oliver – My favourite poet’s essay collection. She shows that she can write prose as well as she writes poetry.

Wildlife

(59) Lions : A Portrait of the Animal World by Lee Server – My favourite big cat described in all its glory with breathtaking photos.

(60) The Sting of the Wild by Justin O’Schmidt – A beautiful description of stinging insects and one of my favourite books about the animal kingdom.

Current Affairs

(61) Fire and Fury : Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff – Interesting book, but with new things happening everyday, this book has aged fast.

Have you read any of these books? How was your reading year in 2018?

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What do you read after reading one Batman book? You read another Batman book 😁

Year One‘ is a 1986 graphic novel which describes how Bruce Wayne became Batman and what happened when Jim Gordon joined the Gotham City police. As the editor Denny O’Neill explains in his introduction, this is not a new version of the Batman myth, but it takes the original story by Bob Kane and fleshes it out and adds more details and makes it realistic to a contemporary audience. The story is told through the voices of Jim Gordon, who has newly moved into Gotham City with his pregnant wife, to work in the police department, and Bruce Wayne who comes back to Gotham City after living many years abroad and who wants to do something about the promise he made to his parents. What these two do to tackle the evil forces in the city, how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, and how Jim Gordon survives the challenges of a corrupt police department form the rest of the story. Selina Kyle plays a small but important part in the story, and Harvey Dent comes in a few scenes.

Year One‘ is an interesting story because it describes how it all started. When I discovered that David Mazzucchelli has done the illustrations, I was quite surprised. I read David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel ‘Asterios Polyp‘ when it first came out and at that time I thought that he had sprung out of nowhere as a fully formed artist. So I was quite surprised when I saw his name here – it looks like he has been around for ages and his art has evolved in beautiful and interesting ways. The second thing I noticed about the book is that Selina Kyle is black. That is not the case in ‘The Long Halloween‘ or any of the film or TV adaptations of the Batman stories, as far as I know. I don’t know how it was in Bob Kane’s original version. It is interesting that in the ’80s, when no one was talking about diverse characters, Frank Miller did his bit to improve the presence of diverse characters in his story.

Selina Kyle

The third interesting thing in the book is that David Mazzucchelli says towards the end of the book that he used Gregory Peck’s image to sketch Bruce Wayne’s face. Isn’t that so cool! I was wondering how Bruce Wayne was so handsome ☺️ Now I know why. Gregory Peck would have made a great Bruce Wayne and Batman.

Gregory Peck morphing into Bruce Wayne

I loved ‘Year One‘. I must be the last person to read it. But if you are a Batman fan and have not read it yet, please do. You will like it. It is a must read for Batman fans. I have shared some of the pages from the book above and below to give you a flavour of the story and the artwork. Of particular interest to you might be the page which shows how Gregory Peck becomes Bruce Wayne.

First pages of the story

Sarah Essen

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I normally read a few comics and graphic novels every year. Most of the time, I read them at the end of the year, when I want to read more books in less time. But I buy comics every year – I subscribe to a particular comics and I get around 40 issues in a year. These are piled up now and they form a few book towers in my home. This year I thought it is time to read more comics and make a dent into those comics piles. In recent times, we have had many discussions on comics in our book group and one of our group members and friends, Avishek, who is also a fellow raccoon, and who is our resident Batman, because he has read every Batman comic ever published, shared his list of favourite Batman books. As I could get my hands on ‘The Long Halloween‘ first, I thought I will start with this one.

If you have seen any of the contemporary era Batman movies, or seen the TV show ‘Gotham‘, you will be familiar with many of the elements of the story told in ‘The Long Halloween‘. There are two bad guys who try to take over Gotham City – Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni. Carmine is the more powerful of the two. Batman and his friends, Police Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent try to bring Carmine Falcone to justice for his crimes. In between, a mysterious killer surfaces in Gotham, and kills people on important holidays. He calls himself ‘Holiday’. Then we have people who belong to what is fondly called ‘Batman’s rogues gallery’ – people like the Joker, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter etc. who are upto their own mischief. What happens when all these events are woven together forms the rest of the story.

I loved ‘The Long Halloween‘. It is fast-paced and gripping. It is around 400 pages long, but one doesn’t feel that, because the pages just zip by. The ending is very unexpected and surprising and I didn’t see that coming. The characters are all interestingly depicted and one of my favourites was Catwoman – she was charming. Tim Sale’s artwork is noir-ish, and he uses a lot of dark shade and it is very atmospheric and haunting. There is a two page conversation, at the beginning of the book, between Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, both of whom worked together in the Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘, which is very fascinating. Nolan says that ‘The Long Halloween’ is more than a comic book, it’s an epic tragedy. It is very true. If you read the book, you’ll know why.

I have shared below some of the scenes from the book – some which feature Catwoman and one which features the Joker – so that they can give you a flavour of what is in store.

Batman and Catwoman – 1

Batman and Catwoman – 2

Batman and Catwoman – 3

The Joker

The Batman Rogues Gallery

Have you read ‘The Long Halloween‘? What do you think about it?

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This is one of the last books I read last year.

This is a book on Agatha Christie – her life, her books, her detectives, the films and plays which were based on her stories, real-world crimes which inspired some of her books, and one real-world crime which was inspired by one of her books. There is also a chapter where contemporary crime fiction writers talk about why they love Agatha Christie. I loved what one of them, Rachel Sargeant, said, on what makes Agatha Christie the Queen of Crime –

“She wrote 66 crime novels, plus romances, plays and short stories. She gave us atleast two unforgettable sleuths, and the best puzzles in the business. All without a word-processor or the internet. The Empress of Crime Fiction.”

There is also a section on Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance. The book touches on many of her famous novels without revealing spoilers, which is a great thing. Except for ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd‘, in which case the book reveals the mystery. Which is sad.

This is a beautiful book, a beautiful ode to Dame Christie. I loved it. It is a collectible and a must read for every Agatha Christie fan. I am sharing below some of the pages from the book to give you a flavour.

Agatha Christie reading a manuscript to her husband, Max

News about Agatha Christie’s disappearance

Hercule Poirot Vs Miss Marple

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot – “I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.”

Joan Hickson, the most popular Miss Marple

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