Annabel Lee : Edgar Allen Poe

Posts more than one a day on this blog are rather unheard of for me. But today through Pinterest,I came across this stunning poem from Poe. What else to do but to share ?

But we loved with a love that was more than love! Such beauty !

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

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Ender’s Game : Orson Scott Card

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The practice of leadership is sometimes a brutal one when the targets are too step or beyond the horizons. Sometimes all that you have is a half cooked or defunct process that needs a fix with a not so very competent team to get it done. In such cases, the march to the target is an arduous one with every single step being taken with your sweat and blood mixed in. At a certain point in my professional career, there was a person at my workplace who was relentless in pursuit of getting things done and in the right way. Someone who believed in the maxim that human beings tend to perform best when stretched to the limits of their endurance. I reached the lowest pits and highest cliffs of my career under this person’s tutelage and memories of this flashed through my mind when I was reading parts of this novel. And the most interesting thing is that this only forms a tiny part of this whole novel. By the time I had crossed a hundred pages into to the tale, I was completely plugged in and totally in tune with the tale and its characters which was a signal for calling this one a favorite.

The tale of Ender Wiggin as recounted in this book cannot just be written off as a coming-of-age tale. It is a perspective of how smart people see the world, the anguish of having to deal with day-to-day monotony and its mindnumbing effect on your intellect, the social ostracism among your peers on account of you being smarter than them, the pressure placed on you by your parents and teachers to strive for bigger and better things are but a few parts of this whole picture. I was not especially a bright kid at school or college but I have seen characters like Ender, Peter and Valentine and also seen what they go through in their daily lives as children. Ender’s story is not built around academics but around the making of a super soldier. A journey of intense physical and mental preparations, social isolation, blood and toil, enemies and friends and ultimately the building of an astute intellect. Ender Wiggins is a superman sans the red cape and the fear of Kryptonite for he never fails in battle or hand-to-hand combat. He is a weapon shaped by humanity against a mindless and brutal wave of alien enemies. Ender is humanity’s last hope and the men and women who train him show no mercy in building a ruthless commander out of him. It is akin to the Spartan tradition of starting young and building a fighting machine out of a child. By the time Ender becomes the best commander from planet Earth, he loses all touches of being a human child and his mindset hardens to something that I can guess would be similar to what Napoleon or Caesar in their hayday might have had.

As a reader, I preferred Valentine and Peter as better studies of character. The way they grow up and evolve had more depth and made more sense to me than Ender’s growth. While as a reader I do understand that Ender is a super soldier, logic tells me that even the ultimate warriors of history like Alexander have failed in battles. This does not make Ender an unbelievable character but gives him a superhuman aura and always puts him a step ahead of others. This tale is a fine example of leadership under high pressure situations and I relished each little moment of studying the battles and the team work that won them.

Rating this book at five stars and calling this a favorite was cemented by the last chapter of the book titled Speaker For The Dead. This one chapter was the best part of the book for me in terms of its setting and outcome. The one part where Ender empathisizes with the enemy and sets forth on a new mission in life was a stroke of brilliance and what could have ended as a run-of-the-mill military thriller becomes something else entirely.

The feeling that can even supercede the swell of pride in victory is the compassion you show for the other lifeforms on this galaxy is the message I came away with !

The Birds & Other Stories : Daphne Du Maurier

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These are the six stories in this book :

1. Birds : The inspiration for the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie but entirely different in terms of the story. It tells us of a small family’s struggle against the vicious birds on a day-by-day basis. What is frightening about the tale is that there is no end in sight. The family is gritty and determined to see it through the crisis but the tale ends on a bleak note. The most atmospheric of all the tales and short,crisp and very effective.

2. Monte Verita : A tale of two friends both avid mountain climbers, a woman, a mysterious sect and a whole lot of blah blah. The tale started off very well and slowly became something that I would have expected from Lovecraft or Robert.E. Howard but lacking that aggressive tone of story telling. It is the weakest of all in the book and rather unnecessarily long in the telling. The weak point is that the tale fails to engage and also never finds a satisfactory ending. It just goes on and on and finally stops.

3. The Apple Tree : You have a person in your life who you are not very fond of but cant avoid having this person in your life. You carry it along as baggage until one day the person disappears as a stroke of luck. But what happens if there is an object that reminds you of this person at every point in time, intruding into your physical and mental world. How long will it take for you to go insane ? This is what is explored in this tale, it is a darkly comic tale of loss and of one person’s effort to find a space in the life of her partner.

4.The Little Photographer : A Marquise on vacation on the French coast decides to dally a bit with a young man who is rather unremarkable. She bites off more than she can chew and ends up in rather dire straits. This is a fine study of character especially of the Marquis and the young man Paul. There is a slow evolution of both these characters and it finely brings out the shades of grey in both of them. The ending is also well thought of and this was my second favorite story in the book.

5. Kiss me again, Stranger : Just a run-of-the-mill story of a man’s one night stand with a woman who is more than what she appears. This tale as a whole is bland for no mistake of the author. The reason for its blandness is that this plot has been used an abused countless times by authors and film makers that it has lost novelty.

6.The Old Man : If you would like to know Daphne Du Maurier’s skill as a story teller, then look no further. She walks you along a dreary, dry story and in the last three sentences blows you away ! It was simply brilliant and I cannot write even a word about the story for that will be giving away the plot.

A good collection, all considered. Worth a read.

The last ray of sunshine

Over the last two years, my reading sensibilities have been influenced by the Mathrubhoomi weekly. My relationship with this magazine has been rather interesting. A good six years or so ago, someone recommended it to me and I tried it out. Quite frankly, I was bored out of my skull with it. Then again I came back to it two years ago and since then it has formed a part of my life. The tag line that the magazine employs Aazhameriya vaayana, aazhcha thorum (Translates into : In-depth reading of topics, on a weekly basis) has become rather true for me too. Some weeks are rather funny when I do not read half the topics and on some weeks it is a cover-to-cover read. Spanning across social, political, economic, cultural and literary landscapes of Kerala and the nation is the range of this magazine. It has formed a part of Kerala’s literary history too. Many a legendary novel has been serialized in the pages of this novel : O.V. Vijayan’s Khasakinte Ithihasam, Kovilan’s Thattakam, Punathil Kunjabdulla’s Smarakashilakal, Mukundan’s Mayyazhipuzhayude Theerangalil and Lalithambika Antharjanam’s Agnisakshi are but a few of the major novels that first saw light in the pages of this magazine. Then again there has been the short stories, many of which were genre defining ones that were first published in Mathrubhoomi. I remember Sakhariya’s Oridam, MT’s Iruttinte Aathmavu, Unni’s Leela, Anand’s Vishnu from the top of my memory. So to sum it all up, this is one kickass magazine !

 I did not write this long paragraph full of gushing to talk about the magazine but about an article that caught my eye this week. The cover story this week has been on forest fires in the Wayanad area of Calicut district. To us city dwellers, a forest fire is just part of the background and not a newsworthy item. To the government it is another piece of statistics about the hectares of forest land lost in the fire and of the wood we lost and hence the monetary loss for the government. But what of the trees that died ? What of the birds, the squirrels, the snakes and the little creatures too small enough to even cry out in the pain of being burned alive ? The photographs published by the magazine are too harsh to look at. A one lush, green fertile forest is now a graveyard of burnt, dead trees and mountains of ash. We can always shelve it as an isolated occurrence and nothing much to worry about but look at where we are heading. The sun is too harsh, water shortage is a reality and we cannot always delve into the comforting softness of the air conditioning. After all, how long will electricity last ! I do bear the label of being an armchair conservationist for beyond these words of angst, I myself have done nothing to change the world I live in ! It is shameful yes and quite hard to imagine that one day this world will be without forests, without greenery and we will end up in a desert. As the saying goes, when the last tree is cut down and the last river dries up, man will know that he cannot eat his money.

 In the microcosm of my little World, to one side of my house was a sizably large tract of land lush with greenery. There were trees abound and they buzzed with the activity of birds. The place had quite a lot of rodents, snakes and cats and the occasional dog or two. Weekends and early mornings were a sight to behold for to see the sun shining down on that wonderful carpet of greenery or the rain falling on it were totally blissful. One evening, coming back from work I was treated to a most horrifying scene. The trees had been felled and the grass cut away and it looked a wasteland to my eyes. To my questions of what happened, the answer was An apartment complex is coming up there . There was nothing more heartbreaking than not hearing the birds or the little creatures anymore. And now, I wake up and see the ugly walls of the building looking down on me. Not many birds roost there, it is just a wasteland now.

 A tiger once came out of the jungle in Wayanad a few months ago and it was finally hunted down and killed. There was a statement made by a political leader that ‘Wild animals should behave themselves’ ! I did not know whether to laugh or look bewildered !

 Closing lines can never come better than Agent Smith’s monologue in The Matrix : I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

Gone Girl : Gillian Flynn

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This tale could give a nightmare to newlyweds with all its darkness and tone of storytelling. But why just newlyweds ? It could be a nightmare for everyone, married or unmarried. If you come across a character like Amy Elliott in real life, run for the hills !

Right from the start, there is a darkness at the edges of your vision. The kind of darkness where you know something nasty is hiding waiting to reveal its hideousness to you when you are least prepared for it. There is a particular viciousness to this tale, a kind of slow and sadistic pleasure that the writer and the characters seem to relish. Imagine a kind of killer who loves to watch his/her victims bleed to death slowly, the feeling is something akin to that.

Amy Elliott Dunne is married to Nick Dunne for five long years and disappears on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. Two years left for the seven year itch and she vanishes into thin air. A routine investigation begins and as luck would have it, it all points to the husband Nick. He is not quite as blameless as the author would have us believe at first but has his own share of skeletons in the closet. The initial two halves of this book are top notch. The first part with the slow undoing of Nick and us the readers getting to know poor, abused Amy and sympathizing with her. The second part is the turning of tables and the so called ‘twist in the tale’ which is all the more dynamite in terms of the feverish pace and devilish cleverness. And then there is the third and final part which is a genuine, 100%, solid gold WTF event ! By the time I ended the book, I felt as if someone had muddled up my brains royally. It is not a befitting ending for such a fiendish story and come to think of it, it is not a befitting ending for any story. A huge let down compared to all the build up that the author had created.

Interestingly, there is not even one likable character in the whole story. In the course of the tale, the characters all vie for who will be the biggest jerk of them all ! No trace of sunshine, no sign of happiness, no birds flying and definitely no smiles ( of course there are smiles but the kind a cat brings forth just before it attacks !) and that pretty much sums up the whole ambiance of the story. The black jacket of the book suits its contents to the ‘T’.

Interlude…of sorts

When I open this site and a fresh new web page, words dry up. A line or two is tapped up, half heartedly and then I go away. But to be fair to the whole aspect of expressing my thoughts in writing, I have had more luck with putting pen on paper than the online part. It was then that during a conversation, a friend of mine put across the idea of putting in my book reviews here on the blog. Considering the fact that I have maintained a steady pace of reviews on good reads and that I am pretty lazy to put in anything else here, this seemed a good thought. So here we go !

I will start with Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’.