How To Write Your Next Bestseller

If you've been pressed for time to write your bestseller about the correlation between Chillies and the Emerging Power of Bland Truths in Business Markets, there's Wired to help you get started.
Wired's Big-Idea Book Generator is a laugh out loud take on the bestsellers in the market.

If the similarity in these books strikes you as curious, read up the article. Might make it more clear for you.

There seems to be an odd affinity for all things food in these books, doesn't it?
Or maybe not?

P.S: That thing about the chillies and business markets may not sound like much, but its a beginning!

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

I am ashamed to admit I had not heard of this book until last week, when The Economist ran a review of the movie. The title of course is poetic and metaphorical, and was key for my wanting to read this book. Then I found out that the author was the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine, and was 43 when we had a massive stroke. He was left completely paralyzed, with controlled movement of just his left eyelid. And that is how he wrote this beautiful poetic work, one eyelid blink and one alphabet at a time. Knowing this, there is no way to not want to read the book.

The book is short, written in very simple language, and honest. It offers one of the most extreme examples of biological life gone wrong, and it shakes the reader into the realization of the simplest (and numerous) things we don't appreciate every single day. There is little to say about this book except to recommend it highly for its honest, inspirational, sarcastic and funny and sad, and in the end utterly moving story.

I am Guilty of Global Warming

No, this post is not about "certain" CO2 emissions! I would never write about that!

Seriously though, this post digresses from my niche posts of books because I want to show my support for the Mumbai Unplug initiative. I have plenty of reasons not to do it;

"Yahan pe to hamesha batti gul hoti hai, ek aur ghanta kisliye? (Lights go off all the time, why do we need one more hour?)". - Doesn't happen that often where I stay, but since it happens often enough in the rest of the country.

"I'm anyways not at home at that time, so I don't particularly need to do anything."

"What Global Warming shorming! Changes in the environment will keep happening." - I do believe in Global Warming as an unfortunate phenomena, but I am slightly doubtful about its apocalyptic flavor.

"Just a few people locally cannot make a difference, what we need is the government to do something." - This one is my favorite.

But seeing the enthusiasm in our community, I thought, why not do something for once. After all doesn't hurt to conserve a little regardless of what your stand on Global Warming is. Not to mention the many slip-ups I'm guilty of;

There are 3 plastic bags floating around in just 1 room right now..
Not using the microwave/cell phone charger/laptop charger/geyser right this moment, but they are all on...
Water is running in the sink tap while my cook is busy with something else...
TV is on while I'm on the laptop...

Anyways.. you get the point. I do need a lesson in conservation. Besides, I wouldn't want future generations to suffer because of my wasteful habits. So am going to use this opportunity and take an early New Year resolution to turn it off, one hour at a time.

What Should I Read Next?

Don't know what to read next? Maybe this will help you..
What Should I Read Next?
Type in an author/title of the genre you'd like to read and it'll give you suggestions. A very basic one-dimensional look up I think. It might give better results if you register and enter more books of your liking.

Want to browse through the current bestsellers? These lists are generated based on retail sales in US on a weekly/monthly basis.

An amazing list of books that may have missed the bestseller lists but are noteworthy, from the folks at NPR, Critics Lists Summer 2007.

For a peek at what India is buying, check out the Crossword Bestsellers.

Or you could be part of the growing social networking sites for the bookworms. Set up your bookshelf, review books, see what your friends are currently reading.
  • Goodreads. You'll find authors on this too.
  • Shelfari. It has widgets for your website and a Facebook application.
Keep on reading!

Tuesdays With Morrie: Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie is a small book, but it carries a great many good questions and some profound observations about our way of life. I picked it up with a very cynical bent of mind as I have come to have about books categorized as "life lessons" or "self-help" if you will. I tend to find these very preachy and that bothers me.

Morrie's however is such a different book talking about the same things you hear from most "guru's" - in such a nice little package. The plot is life and the players are us. Morrie is a professor who is suffering from a terminal disease and this book is about his unique perspective on life and how he makes his time count. The author is a beloved student of his who has lost touch and gotten sucked into the grind of life when he hears about his illness and reconnects. The book is about their conversations about topics that affect us all - life, death, relations, marriage children, regrets.

Personally, quite a few items in the book were close to the heart, I'm sure everyone will find something or the other to relate to via their experiences - the book is poignant and Morrie's aphorisms are profound. Through reading the book I really felt attached to Morrie and as you reach the very end you wish that he sticks around longer - like a beloved person's loss at the very inevitable end.

Morrie talks about personal attention to people in your life, there is a beautiful thought about "detaching" yourself from an experience - he says that we try to preserve an experience - instead live through it - experience everything - dont hold back - say it and feel it all - so that when its all said and done - you can detach yourself from the experience hence making it easy to let go of something - I dont completely understand the concept - but its something to experience I guess.

The book is filled with such profound observations, the above is probably one that I felt was the most complex for me to relate to and understand. Tuesdays with Morrie is a recommended read - its like being a fly on the wall of a very interesting converation - and at the end the loss is real - but the lessons remain.

Science Fiction becomes Reality!

This is so cool, almost like Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker Guide!

Amazon has released a new product Kindle, an electronic book!

What I loooove about it;

  • would be great for school, no reason to carry textbooks around, if you have all your books on it.
  • great portability for travel. No carrying around different map books, guide books.
  • aah.. search!! How I would love to be able to search through my books!
  • Dictionary AND Wikipedia access.
  • no waiting for the snail mail to bring in your fortnightly TimeOut, three days late!
  • and I could go on....
What I don't like about it;
  • price : its $399!!!
  • price
  • need I say price again!
It sounds amazing! I don't think it will threaten print books. Nothing can take away the joy of collecting books, seeing all your books in the bookcase, gifting books, the smell of paper (yes, I love the smell of new books !) and so much more that we get from the physicality of books. Or will it?

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The latest book I've read is 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter' by Kim Edwards. I picked it up because the title seemed mysterious, and the back cover synopsis, tragic. What I liked very much about the book is that the secret it deals with throughout, and the secret every character's life is shaped by, is given to the reader in the first chapter. What is also dealt with extremely well is how shocking the secret is, how much it weighs on the people who know it, and most surprising to me, how it changes so many lives without their even being aware of it. It is a very human story. Edwards is especially good at not only telling the story, but also sharing with the reader the character's thoughts, and thereby revealing even more about the person.

After that first chapter, knowing the secret, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were. I kept assuming highly dramatic tragedies to unfold. The book disappointed me each time, which is why I liked it very much. The story is very real, probably because each person in it is deeply flawed, but at the same time good. It also has its shares of 'life lessons', which I'm sure a reader will discern for themselves.

While one key character in the book is disabled, the book is not in this sense in the league of other excellent books like 'The Speed of Dark' and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'. Overall, I would recommend it as a good read.

Books I'd Like To See On My Bookshelf

How will I ever catch up on an ever increasing list!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Mohsin Hamid(chica's review)
(swati's review)
The Time Traveler's Wife: Audrey Niffenegger
Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris: Sarah Turnbull
Confessions of a Shopaholic: Sophie Kinsella (chica's review)
Sacred Games: Vikram Chandra
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers: Xiaolu Guo
What's Not to Love? The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer: Jonathan Ames
The Extra Man: Jonathan Ames
Wind Up Bird Chronicles: Haruki Murakami
In Arabian Nights:A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams: Tahir Shah
1984: George Orwell
Animal Farm: George Orwell
The Bookseller of Kabul: Asne Seierstad
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier: Ishmael Beah
The Book of Lost Things: John Connolly

Hiroshima: John Hersey
In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars: Kevin Sites
The Question of Palestine: Edward W. Said
The Frozen Water Trade - A True Story: Gavin Weightman
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: Tom Wolfe
India's External Intelligence: Maj Gen VK Singh
Operation Blue Star: K S Brar
Games Indians Play; Why we are the way we are: V Raghunathan
Discover your Inner Economist: Tyler Cowen

Graphic Novel

Kashmir Pending: Naseer Ahmed
Hopeless Savages: Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie, Chynna Clugston-Major

Science Fiction

Ubik: Philip K. Dick

Encounter with Sarnath Banerjee

Sarnath Banerjee is the author of India's first graphic novel Corridor. His second graphic novel The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers has been reviewed here.

I would like to share with you a few questions I asked Sarnath Banerjee, and he was kind to put up with me and answer.

Q. What graphic publications did you read as a kid? What would you say were your influences?
I read regular books as a kid. Only comics I had access to, through our neighbour, was Tintin.

Q. What is your favorite graphic novel?
Maus is pretty good. Also Palestine by Joe Sacco. Favorite is Julius Knipl Real Estate photographer, Ben Katchor.

Q. The Western readers/audience is now waking up to Indian / Bollywood kitsch. Are your books catering to them by using it? Don't you think it's at the end of its innings in India? Is it because you think,Indian readers won't appreciate a true graphic novel.
I don’t know what a true graphic novel is. Would it be one that is canonized by the western world? And by striving to mimic one of them can I create the true graphic novel? I wonder

What you are considering kitsch is fish and rice for me, staple food of a coastal inhabitant. All the kitsch adds up to the world that I had once engendered and still living in. Contemporary urban mythology is constantly producing an ever-growing number of them and I will continue documenting them. For me kitsch is a term devised by art historians and the Birmingham school as a plaything for academia, to write yet another dissertation on. Objects of kitsch are for me urban artifacts upon which I base my work. The kitsch in Owl existed during Victorian Calcutta. It is a lopsided way to look at history. And history does exist outside text books. One may even say that it is locked in popular culture.

I am currently sitting in the middle of the avant-garde in Europe. Here mathematics is the language of god, Physics is the most masculine of all sciences, Opera is the most celebrated of all musical forms, and great many novels are written around the grand piano. Thomas Mann is God here. In short this is high culture as the white man understands it.

But I have grown up on pulp, Bengali detective stories, radio plays and Campa Cola ads. I look at it fondly and try to talk of a society that created these artifacts (kitsch), dissect it forensically, frame it. I rarely pick up an obscure fact from the 70s, crunch it through the cultural studies machine and publish it at Dazed and Confused. My concern, I feel, is almost as legitimate as an upper middle-class NRI Iyenger girl writing a novel on arranged marriage in southern California.

I don’t watch Bollywood, can’t bear it, nor cricket.

Q. Does the Indian market's sensibility hold you back while writing? What would you like to really write/draw if there was no worry of Indian moral censors?
I am not a big marketing phenomenon, which in a sense is librating. I don’t need to have a finger on the pulse of public taste. Comics is usually outside the radar of Indian high culture, Indo-Anglican writing or Indian art world, it’s a good place to be in. My books express local concerns, I don’t have literary agents, they are not sold abroad except in France. Graphic novel, as of now, is for a small group of readers. It is still an un-co-opted subculture. I get by with pretty much whatever I want.

Thank you Sarnath :)

The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers: Sarnath Banerjee

Sarnath Banerjee has found an unlikely source of inspiration in Indian publishing. Both his books have been very high in kitsch content from a couple of decades back.

Graphic novels, the genre in itself seems a bit rebellious in nature to traditional novels, so criticizing him of not sticking to the usual style seems to detract from the defiant spirit of the genre. But though his mixing of different print forms like old adverts, photos,naked women drawn on ruled notebook paper, history book illustrations is mildly interesting, its no different from a comic book attempt in TimeOut or a MTV collage.

Sarnath Banerjee's habit to use kitsch as a tool seems passe. This worked fairly well for his first book, mainly because of the nostalgic 'Ha Ha!' that looking at old movie posters or calendars propagating hygiene, evokes. Carrying the style through to his next book in a similar fashion takes away from the story telling.

He definitely has a story to tell, going by the oddball Calcutta characters and their eccentricities that he has threaded together using his comeback character, Digital Dutta. The decadent British and just plain crazy Babu's of old Calcutta would surely fill up a lot of pages with their antics.
But when the best illustration is actually a photo with black marker outlines on it, it doesn't say much for the illustrator.

In a graphic novel, you can say so much more with just a few well placed swirls. I would really like to see him do just that, be more brave with the illustrations.

I would say, go back to the drafting table and draw... just draw.

Go Tell It On The Mountain: James Baldwin

Go Tell It On The Mountain is a very bold book. In an era when "Ebonics" had not been coined yet, when being black was not every white kids style, James Baldwin stayed so true to the African-American colloquialism. James Baldwin has written with complete truthfulness and self-questioning this parable of finding yourself, finding your belief, finding your God. Are these even different things, or is it one? It is this honesty which keeps you engrossed. Whether you'll end up loving this book or not probably depends on your personal equation with the Supreme Being, but what you will definitely admire and carry forward is his honesty, honesty about the lives of African-Americans, honesty which is also echoed in the language.

Go Tell It On the Mountain is a biblical story of a youth dealing with his personal demons with regards to religion at an age where sin has not manifested itself in any form whatsoever in him. John finds himself in the difficult position of questioning his faith. John's mental turmoil in separating the men of god from god itself and paving a religious path for himself is very touching. This mirroring of thoughts which are timeless in nature, pulls you into the story. You find yourself questioning along with John, praying along with his mother Elizabeth and feeling betrayed by his father Gabriel.

James Baldwin delves into each characters personal quest to achieve a place next to God. He frankly describes the African-American homes, the depth to which they are influenced by Christianity. So much so that at times you find it disconcerting. The two-facedness, the fake righteousness of the sanctified men makes you cringe with discomfort, followed by skepticism. Which is why, when John ends up being saved, I felt deceived. What brings about John's confirmation to the faith? Is it the hope to be freed from suffering that is passed on to him from generations? Is it to assuage the curiously skirted guilt of homosexuality? Could it have to do with the evangelist nature of African-American church services, where the charged up atmosphere, the childhood influences, the trance-like energy which may make one forget all inhibitions, insecurities and embrace that which is core to one and all, an eagerness to believe.

That this is a story of a different era is not to be forgotten. The depth to which James Baldwin writes about the African-American psyche, their hope in being freed from their suffering, their expectant belief in their faith, gives you reason to half-heartedly agree to the biblical end to the story.

This book, makes me curious of the role that guilt, fear and a hope for change, plays in bringing people closer to their god. Yes, signs of a true skeptic, but maybe in one of my trance-like states caused by certain unmentionable substances that might change and make me a believer.

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon is a giant of a book - most people I know,have either abandoned it midway or balk at the prospect of reading such a major small typed book! My recommendation - read it. Cryptonomicon weaves multiple stories flashing back and forward to the present to create a pretty compelling read.

The book starts off in the present time with a set of silicon valley geeks looking to get a slice of the communications pie in Asia, specifically in the Phillipines which serves as the backbone for all communication lines in the area. A secret goal of these people is to recover a stash of hidden German gold lost during the dying days of WW II when the Germans were retreating with whatever they could lay their hands on.The common link is the grandson of a famed code breaker who played a major role in cracking German codes and helping to win the war. Stashed amongst the stuff of his grandfather is information about this big stash of gold.

Starting with this basic premise Neal Stephenson weaves in stories of how WW II was won not only by the personnel on the ground but to a large extent by the mathematicians and scientists who broke German codes and dealt with the delicate cat and mouse game of letting the other party believe that their conversations were still unknown while infact the reverse was true. It was fascinating to be exposed to that side of the war which is so easily hidden, one watches documentaries and hears stories of major battles and victories, but to think that so many of these might have been orchestrated just to hide the fact that the other side might already know how to read your communication, e.g. there is the bit of allowing German U-Boats to sink some vessels to let the Germans continue to think that their codes were safe and at the same time restraining the generals from simply going all out and making it obvious to the Germans that their codes were broken. This, ofcourse, occcurred on both sides - its cool to think about how math was used to distribute events in order but to appear random enough so that the other side wouldnt guess that their codes were broken.

The highlight of the book for me was the characters (The Elder Waterhouse / Enoch Root / Bobby Shaftoe notably) and how their characters shape knowingly or unknowingly a series of events that has repurcussions outside their own lifetimes. If you are not a details junkie, you can avoid this book - for me - the author sets a nice balance on explaining the cryptology concepts involved while at the same time not making it too geeky - then weaving in the birth of computing as a necessity to overcome the Germans, the mathematicians that were once friends and now are on separate sides because of their nationality - the weaving of the code creators personality into the codes which eventually helps the other side to break it.

With Cryptonomicon, its the journey and not the destination, the gold which like a cliched Hindi movie reaches its inevitable climax with multiple parties (Germans/Americans/Japanese) with snippets of data - and only one party with access to information (the disctinction being significant) - which ultimately sets the tone of the book for me. It took me a long time to get through this book, but I always got sucked back into it because the setting of the story in a historical perspective and the ineherent geekiness of the story tract was very compelling. The GEEKS will inherit the world!

MOTH smoke: Mohsin Hamid

In Moth Smoke, Mohsin Hamid crafts a complex story and leaves you to judge the characters, their insecurities, their arrogance, and their crimes. He has written a candid and uncomfortably honest account of contemporary Pakistan.
Dara has lost his job, and all desire to pull out from the economic slump that leaves him in. He is resigned to let his insecurities take him over. Reuniting with his childhood pal Ozi and Ozi's beautiful wife Mumtaz, bring out all the hitherto buried uncertainties. Dara's clandestine attraction for Mumtaz and his envy for Ozi cloaked under morally uptight condescension thrust him into the belly of Pakistan's corrupt judicial system.

Whether it is the drug addiction or his insistence on becoming martyr to his love, Dara's decline is not unlike the much scrutinized moth fatally spiraling towards the candle flame. From being a banker to a drug peddler to a petty criminal, Dara smokes through to the inevitable end.

Mohsin Hamid has inferred interesting parallels between the characters and the nuclear rivalry of blood brothers India-Pakistan. And the fatalistic nature of the moth to bring forth certain unstated thoughts of Dara.

It is a cleverly laid out book which unravels as a play with each character recounting their side of the story. The writing style for the narratives of each character is very similar and this is where I feel Mohsin Hamid left me desiring for something better. Each character's narrative sounds similar in language, their diversity and disparity is not manifested in their language.

Mohsin Hamid's achievement in Moth Smoke is that he has steered completely clear of the immigrant literature formula. A lot of South Asian author's first books fall for the obvious and tend to talk about their immigrant lives, childhood memories triggered by smells of pickles or jasmine oil, houses full of aunts and uncles. There is none of the sepia-toned flashbacks which make even the hottest day appear mellow, beautiful in our memories. Rather he says it like it scorchingly is.

South of the Border, West of the Sun: Haruki Murakami

South of the Border, West of the Sun is a good travel read. I liked the title, it seems mysterious. The existence of a yearning in every person, yearning for dreams to come true.. the inexplicable sense of emptiness when you know that there is something more.. but that its left behind or is not in your destiny.. is well elucidated in the book.

But ironically, as in Hajime's life, there is something missing in the book.. I understand the protagonist's feelings in theory, but I dont feel them with him. I can see why he's wistful of the past, but frankly I don't care. Maybe because the language felt so flat. I wonder if its because its a translation. Or maybe I expected some Japanese-ness(?) to the language. A lot of the phrases and words used seem very American, so the characters don't come across as Japanese or of any particular culture. That should probably be a good thing, shouldn't it, to be able to write across borders. But I like to read non-English author's works as it gives a sense of the place, of the people, their culture. I think I had a lot of expectations from the book.
All said, the book is a decent read so I will definitely give a try to one of Haruki Murakami's more famous books.

For lack of anything more apt to say, this book was just a case of lost in translation for me.

White Mughals : William Dalrymple

If I ever had to choose someone to rewrite history William Dalrymple would definitely be top of the list.

Wonderful book to read if you are interested in Indian history but can't read through some of the textual, verbose and factual books you usually find on Indian history.. books that my dad would love, but I find the writing styles extremely difficult to relate to.

It was refreshing to read about a culture crossover at that time and age. WD's curiosity as to how after being in India for 300 years, the British at large didn't carry Indian influence with them. Shilpa Shetty and Indian curry are still alien and exotic for them.

WD's depiction of historical figures makes them actual flesh and blood, rather than just names. Reading through the really thick but gripping book, you can see these people of centuries back..

WD's detailed research of the letters, between all the different historical figures, makes for a very interesting read. You can almost see where they sat while writing those letters, their clothes, the expressions on their face, hear their thoughts through the letters in the colloquial language. James Kirkpatrick is not ancient anymore. His thoughts, his feelings that you see through the letters makes him contemporary. Khair un-Nissa from 200 years back has the same stubbornness and determination to insist on getting her love,her way as any young girl today might.

Smart and sensitive James, beautiful and in love Khair un-Nissa, old man Nizam, wily Aristu Jah, villainous Mir Alam, ambitious Henry Russell, dancing courtesans and poetry in moonlit gardens, wow.. what a story! Quite the inspiration for a blockbuster Bollywood movie.

Its a heavy book, but I'm definitely carrying it with me to Hyderabad to do a "White Mughal" tour through the city. See the British Residency, the Mah Laqa Bai Chanda's tomb, the Maula Ali shrine.. see where they lived.. the river, the bridges, the pleasure gardens.

WD's interpretation of the reasons behind some of the political decisions of the Mughal and British empire makes you question what you've been fed as kids in school history books. The hero's and villains of pre-independence era are very subjective. Something you see in contemporary politics too.

History seems fun now.. Maybe I will try reading Discovery of India again..and if I go beyond a few pages, you'll know about it. :)

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