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Short notes on some of the books I finished reading recently (last two months or so) in no particular order:

To The Ends of The Earth: Was originally conceived by the author William Golding as three separate books – Rites of Passage, Close Quarter and Fire Down Below. The book, right from its Foreword - where Golding gives an interesting account of how the trilogy came about – to its very last page, is an enjoyable read.

The story, set in early nineteenth century, is a first hand account of our imaginary protagonist, Edmund FitzHenry Talbot’s journey from England to Australia. It is one of those rare books about a long Sea voyage which has no buccaneers, no shipwrecks and no islands (not if you consider Australia an island – but then come to think of it, all continents are islands), though you will get your fair share of tempests.

There is a certain charm in Golding’s witty writing which I wish I could even scarcely imitate! Take for instance this entry from Mr. Talbot’s journal which he writes after waking from influence of a paregoric; having completely lost track of days since when he was keeping his log. He puts a big X on the masthead of the page and begins his entry:

‘I think it is the seventh – or the fifth – or the eighth perhaps – let “X” do its algebraic duty and represent the unknown quantity’

If you like Golding, pick it up right away. If you don’t, perhaps you need to take another look at the author and this is just the right book for the purpose. If you haven’t read Golding, you have been depriving yourself of some of the finer things in life (not to mention some of the finer works of English literature!)

Beethoven’s Hair: When I read the title of this book for the first time, I took it for handy work of printer’s devil. Surely the author meant Heir not Hair! It so turned out, the devilry here was of my own ignorance. When Beethoven died in 1827, several locks of his hair were snipped and kept by his admirers as souvenirs. One such lock appeared at Sotheby’s for auction, where it was picked up by two American Beethoven enthusiasts. The lock, neatly folded in a glass locket, was extracted from it in December 1995 for biomedical research (the 1997 BBC documentary on Beethoven’s life actually begins with a recording of this very event). The book traces the journey of this lock of hair from Beethoven’s death-bed to its present owners. It also gives fascinating details of forensic studies performed on these hair which throw light on causes of Beethoven’s suffering, deafness and death.

The book’s narrative is dry but the approach taken by the author Russell Martin is an interesting one. The chapters detailing the story of the lock of hair are interjected with chapters that give biographical account of Beethoven’s life – so you learn a great deal about the composer and not just his hair!

A must have for any Beethoven fan (the book that is, acquiring his hair is beyond my fiscal status or taste). For yet to be Beethoven fans - if history and science interest you, you might want to flip through the book when you visit the bookstore next.

Malgudi Schooldays: Is a slightly abridged version of R. K. Narayan’s novel Swami and Friends and includes two stories not in the original. The book came to me as gift from a friend, who I must thank profusely! Narayan’s prose is lucid, and his characters simple, yet they leave a profound impression on you. It brought back fond memories of my own schooldays. Though setting of my schooling was very different from the pre-independence, small south Indian town setting of Swami’s, it is probably the universal appeal (at least to anyone who grew up in India) of Narayan’s themes which make these stories touch a chord.

The book is my first introduction to R. K. Narayan, though not the first one to Swami and his friends, thanks to the TV series Malgudi Days. I should be reading more of his works!

Postscript: Does anyone know if the poignant title music from the series is available anywhere? I’ve heard it set to ring-tones but that, as you would probably agree, is no substitute for the original! (I am unknowingly beginning to hum it as I write this!).

Mainstream: Modern Short Stories: This book is a little unusual in how it came to me. At the end of each academic year, our school would recognize outstanding students at the annual valedictory function. Either I or my sister got it as a prize for our academic performance (which means that it probably must’ve been sis ;-)). It is one of those books that land up in excess stock at your school library and are promptly (should I add ostentatiously) dumped at one of these school rituals (yes, age, along with a crop of grey hair, brings sarcasm. The former I am yet to cultivate while of latter I could claim surfeit).

This school textbook is a compilation of short, modern literary works by some of the most well known authors/authoresses of 20th century (D. H. Lawrence, Doris Lesing, Joseph Conrad to name a few). While it might have been schoolboy material at a British school, it would have certainly proven itself a little demanding at our school in both language and content, given the general standards of English and its pedagogy there.

Overall a lackluster read with just a couple of exceptions. First published in 1965 I own the book’s sixth 1973 impression (years before I was born!). I suspect it must be out of print now unless it is still prescribed as part of a school’s antiquated syllabus.

posted: 19.1.05


I don't know about the other books but R.K. Narayan is simply amazing. I am currently reading his biography and feel that, at times, Narayan's life is similar to Swami's. If you like RK, you must read The Guide.

I have been looking for the soundtrack for quite some time now. I don't even know what it is called.

By the way, the TV series is still telecast on some Doordarshan channel on Sunday afternoons.

By Blogger Vivek, at 20.1.05  

There is another book by RK Narayan titled 'Malgudi Landscapes' which contains excerpts from quite a few books he has authored as well as essays and his travel experiences. Though you end up feeling a little disappointed with the excerpts(the chapter ends abruptly at the most crucial part of the story), the essays are beautiful (especially the one about Magsaysay).

By Blogger Aarthi, at 20.1.05  

I picked up To The Ends... at a bookshop recently and almost bought it. I'd never heard of it before. Do books surface out of the neglected shelves to the main shelves of bookstores around the same time across the country? :-)

By Blogger Ink Spill, at 20.1.05  

Thanks for the recommendation Vivek. I'll pick up The Guide the next time I am in a bookstore.

No TV at my home, I'll look out for the telecast whenever I am home next.

Hey Aarthi - thanks again for introducing me to R. K. Narayan in the first place! Sure, I'll pick this one up too!

Almost...! You almost missed a gem ;-)! It does happen with me as far as hard-to-find western classical CDs go - they surface at all the stores almost simultaneously. The last time I visited Crossword here they did not have a single work of Golding's so To The Ends of The Earth must've been one of those fluke imports :-)...

By Blogger Deepak, at 20.1.05  

A second hand recommendation for R.K. Narayan's "The Guide". It's on my to read list at the recommendation of several respected literary pals.

By Blogger Susan, at 4.2.05  

Thanks Susan! It will be on my bookshelf shortly :)

By Blogger Deepak, at 7.2.05  

Best regards from NY!
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By Anonymous Anonymous, at 26.8.06  

you can actually find the malgudi days signature tune on the net. i did the other day.
as for RKN's novels, it depends on what type you like. there is the swami type of course or very serious ones like 'the dark room'. having read all his books & a few essays, i can say that there is nothing better than lounging on an easy chair and savouring one of those works with some great filter coffee...

By Blogger Maddy, at 9.1.07  

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