Tag Archives: books

Book Review – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Image of a hand holding Infinite Jest paperback edition

My Rating : 5/5

Infinite is the right word for this book. It is an absolutely immense book. Not just the sheer volume of it – the print version goes above eleven hundred pages, but even in the different number of themes it touches. It keeps jumping between genres with changes in the narrators, who are all quite wildly different but somehow brought together through a most inconceivable plot, if it can be called so. Apparently the word for it is an ‘encyclopedic novel’, considering the level of detail it gets into describing this postmodern world conjured up by the author – where we no longer have numbers for years but rather something called ‘subsidized time’ – with most of the action taking place in the YDAU (Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment).

It has a rather depressive beginning, and this general sense of a mental abyss keeps going on for quite a while making one wonder if there is any kind of jest in it as the title indicates. Time slows down as someone high on weed describes a bug on a wall, which goes on for pages. Then we have a father who failed at the two loves of his life – tennis and acting, trying to distill the essence of both and somehow managing to bring them together in a monologue to his son where individual sentences go on for pages. And let me not get started about the point where the narration switches to the absolute bottom dregs of the Bostonian society, for whom life is just about getting from one score to another and the will to do any heinous act to get there.

However, the subtle hints at humor emerge as the book grows into you. You have an ‘Experiealist’ (as opposed to Imperialist – as in forcibly giving away their territory to another nation) power, ie USA, at the helm of a grouping of North American countries – an entity who’s name abbreviates to a term which may be best described as someone enjoying themselves. And an unlikely and ‘specially abled’ Quebecois separatist group violently opposed to any such union. The humor reaches its zenith in a rather unique annual game held at the ETA (Enfield Tennis Academy – central to the story and also where the protagonist Hal Incandenza is a promising talent), where mostly pre-pubescent boys and girls engage in a sort of world ending event, filled with jargon and events which will make any geopolitics nerd (almost everyone if one goes by the level of expertise one sees on Twitter) laugh themselves silly. Not to forget about the current US American President, a mad as a hatter ex crooner who has an OCD about germs and infections – everyone getting close to him had to go through a UV machine and put on gloves, masks and put on foot covers (no shoes allowed), somehow seeming quite prescient about the current COVID pandemic.

The author David Foster Wallace was quite a polymath and it shows with the level of detail he goes into quite varied subjects. He was also blessed with an immense vocabulary (can’t recall any book where I had to hit the dictionary so often). I like reading books which expand my mental horizons and this book definitely fits the bill. All one needs is the patience to get through the epic scale of it.

Book Review – Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

My Rating : 5/5

This is probably one of the most important books that I’ve read in my life. Even considering some of the claims made by the author on the immense number of issues lack of sleep can cause to not be true as per the PS#1, quite a lot of them ring true based on personal experience.
It remains a fact that LED lights, personal electronic devices, unhealthy eating habits, late TV watching among others are actively affecting the quality and quantity of our sleep. While we are aware of some of the shortfalls of the lack of sleep, the magnitude of the importance of a good night of sleep on most facets of our life is lost to us. This book showcases the benefits of good sleep, and the detriment of bad sleep throughout its 400+ pages, with startling facts being revealed on almost every other page (my highlights crossed the publisher threshold so could not view full text outside the reader app, but easily going above 40 pages). It goes to the extent of possibly scaring readers who suffer from bad sleep.
Cannot recommend this book enough to everyone. Because everyone needs a good night of sleep.

#1 Suggest reading the criticism by Alex Guzey ( https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/ ), with no official response by the author as yet.
#2 Bill Gates’ review https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Why-We-Sleep

Book Review – Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett

Fabulous book. If there is one book you want to read on modern Spain, this should be it. Covers a wide breadth of topics including nearly all provinces, El Caudillo and the horrors of the Civil War including how its left Spain divided and the guilty unpunished, Basque and Catalan nationalism and their uniqueness, Flamenco and gypsies, Costa del Sol and the invention of package tourism, Galician idiosyncrasies, the Spanish way of life (endless nights and mid day siestas) and much more. Written by a British journalist who’s been living in Spain since the mid 80’s, I found this book in most reading lists for potential tourists. Highly recommend getting the latest copy as the author has been adding on newer events with every edition.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Toru Okada loses his job. Then his cat. Then his wife.

What follows is a most bizarre journey.

He meets two psychic sisters, who help him in his search. Inexplicably grows a blue patch on his face. Befriends a high school student who’s part time job is to observe men’s hair patterns. Decides to hangout in a well and gets trapped inside for days. Meets a WW2 veteran who recalls his tortuous and bizarre experiences as a young Japanese officer in Manchukuo who becomes a PoW in a Russian slave labour camp. Meets another WW2 survivor who ‘cures’ people and her son who stopped speaking at the age of 6, inspite of being capable of doing so.

Amazing, mind blowing book with such a wide scope that when you finish reading it you feel you’ve come a long way from where you began.

PS :
A friend borrowed my original copy for a trip abroad when I was midway through, never to return it. I ended up buying another copy after quite a bit of waiting. This was my third Murakami book, following ‘Kafka on the shore’ and ‘South of the border, west of the sun’ chronologically, and I recently finished my first collection of short stories by the same author – ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’, another great read. Bought ‘Norwegian Wood’ recently, should be starting it soon.

Book hunting and jazz

Yesterday was quite hectic. The day began quite early, as I had to meet Vijay at the Strand sale. Started a little late, so found the peak 9am traffic. Still somehow managed to reach on time.

The Strand sale was again organised at the Chinnaswami cricket stadium like last year, but in a different location. Last time they only had one large hall, with books piled up one on top of the other, so it was a tough job to search. This time though, it was held in 3 halls, so there was enough space to spread out all books. I remember last time I had bought some 4-5 books, all really good deals. But it was disappointing this time, found mostly bestsellers, that too at a very nominal discount. I told them about it, and they asked me to come again in a few days as they were going to get more stock.

Vijay came about 30 mins late, by which time I had more or less scanned the first hall. Then we went through the entire collection together, looking for good bargains. But didn’t really found much to our liking. Still, I ended up buying two. A collection of short stories by Tolstoy, which I bought because I wanted to read Kreutzer Sonata, a story I left unfinished when in school. The other one was Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Then we went for more book shopping to Blossoms, our evergreen discount store, where one can always find good deals. We spent over an hour going through all the sections. I bought two books on Vijay’s recommendation. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a good book to start on this author. The other one was My Feudal Lord, an autobiography of Tehmina Durrani, wife of one of Pakistan’s highest ranked politicians, in which she writes about the kind of abuse she had to face from her husband.

Then got back to home, where a fabulous lunch was waiting for us. Rested for sometime, while Vijay spent some time online. Then we chatted up for sometime. He invited me to a jazz event at Alliance Francaise in the evening. I thought it would be interesting, so decided to go.

Alliance as usual was buzzing with activity. I was introduced to the director of the Bangalore School of Music (the event’s organiser), who wanted to meet me for some help. We decided to meet and talk at a later time. Then the show was about to begin, so we assembled inside the amphitheatre.

Finally the show started, and the performing duo was welcomed on the stage by the director.
On guitars was well known jazz guitarist Amit Heri, and on the piano was Sharik Hassan, who’s only 22 but already famous for his talent, with performances in India and abroad. They performed several classics, and the show went on for about an hour. Finally I bid adieu to my friend, and started on my way back home, quite tired after the hectic day.