And This is Where I Summarise

The things we do for the love of reading and writing! Here are some of the things that I put up on my blog this year.

Book Reviews

I have written a lot of book reviews this year. But the most fun I had was in the months of September and October, when I raced against time to read the Booker shortlist, before the winner got announced. I managed to read five out of six, Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 being too long for me, even in the best of times. Reading these excellent books back to back provided me with some great insights regarding the storylines and the plots. I was excited to read these vastly different voices, from the richly imagined Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (the 2017 winner) to the ethereal History of the Wolves by Emily Fridlund (an excellent debut). There was another debut work, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, which had excellent world building. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid has received effusive praise and I would let others do the talking here. Autumn by Ali Smith made me long to write something on those lines; light, contemporary, witty and yet poignant. It sounded from the heart; it talked of things close to us, the ones that touch us deeply in life.

I also marveled at how these adept writers broke the rules and how books are wonderous even when they are flawed.

Listicles

This year, I made public my love for writing lists. Ideally, everything I know or think of can be written in the form of lists. It isn’t just the satisfaction of ticking off things; it is the fun of enumerating things without having to structure my thoughts much. So, I kicked off 2017 with a weekly feature on lists. Those listicles ruled the blog till October when I realised that I was repeating myself and would do so unless I found different things to write about. Most of the listicles were about the writing process and really, nearly all of them are my favourites. Still, I would recommend this one on keeping the writing inspiration strong. And this one on the Muse. Also this on creativity. I wrote one on goodbyes. And why I write.

NaNoWriMo 2017

I completed the NaNoWriMo this year too and saw the difference it makes when one writes a lot, even though initially a lot of it may be crappy. I learnt a lot more about the writing process and what my strengths (obstinacy) and weaknesses (outlining) are.

If we were having coffee…

I wanted to write many coffee posts and have a heart to heart talk with my readers but this year, I was also stuck in the bubble of not wanting to talk much about myself or what was up in my personal life. I wanted to cut out the I, Me, Myself completely but our blogs are essentially a reflection of our selves. I need not have played the hide and seek. Hopefully, in the coming months, I would be able to talk more of my experiences.

Through the Mist

The best thing in the journey of reading and writing came in the form of a collaborative book that got published this year. I got together with four other writers and penned short stories for a collection titled, Through the Mist. Writing with others turned out to be a new and fun experience and having my own published book in my hands is a priceless feeling. Being part of a very supportive team of writers, the editor and the publisher has been an enriching writing experience.

Sunday Trees

This year has also been about the trees. I cannot help noticing them wherever I go. I am incredibly fortunate to be in cities that are teeming with so many of them. And as a blogger friend pointed out, we appreciate and take care of trees and that’s a fantastic thing on our part.

I was also very fascinated with flowers. For some time, I happened to be in a place where the houses are fronted with magnificent gardens, a plethora of flowers in every yard. I was hooked as I saw their colours and forms with new eyes. And then we moved places and there are no flowers in the boxed apartments. I have taken to clicking leaves of the potted plants. But that’s a story for another time.

Thanks and good wishes to each one of you in the blogging community. I wouldn’t be here, if not for you.

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The NaNoWriMo Experience

 Why this post?

A month and a half back, nearly at the end of October, I planned a set of posts for the blog that I would do in November. I would be busy doing the NaNoWriMo and what thing can be more wonderful than writing nano related posts? I wanted to write weekly updates. I wanted to talk about what I learnt through writing so much. I wanted to rave about my learnings. I wanted to crib at the inevitable setbacks.

All those plans failed, though. Once I got sucked into the vortex of writing, I did not have the energy to even reply to the comments on my blog (not that there were many).

So, this should have been the last in a long series of posts; instead it is standalone. What have I learnt from trying to fit 50k words in 30 days?

What I Learnt

First and foremost, it is a mind-altering (replace that with mindset) experience. Writing a lot, writing regularly, showing up and pushing at it stretches the writing muscle in unimaginable ways. I found myself feeling very confident of my writing abilities after these stints. It is like taking the angst out of writing and striking out all the romantic notions of the Muse. Writing feels more of a craft than being a mere talent that I am dredging up.

I understand the writing process much better now. I understand the places where I face blocks. I understand which times of the day are good for writing. I know what to do when there are minor conflicts in the plots. (Outline, question yourself and bring up plausible answers). I know how to work around gaping plot holes (go for a walk, the longer, the better. Each extra mile brings a fresher perspective). I have learnt to rewrite flat scenes and make them more layered.

Writing a lot, even when you have nothing to write forces you to bring up words from the very depths of your being and that is actually good and magical because otherwise those experiences and words stay in your subconscious. There have been times when I was simply pushed in a corner regarding a particular scene but I soldiered on, wrote some more, hated myself for writing rubbish, forced myself to imagine the unbelievable, wrote that and found some gems.

This NaNoWriMo, I wanted to be a rebel. There was last year’s MS staring at me and I was trying not to catch it’s eye. I have neglected it a lot but the fact was that I was absolutely terrified of opening it again and look at how bad the slush pile really was. But there was no way I was going to start writing something new. I could not have handled the guilt. So, I put on my cool sunglasses (ahem, the sunglasses were normal temperature; they just made me look cool) and picked up last year’s 50k pile to attempt to make it better.

This strategy made me understand the joy of first drafts. Till now, they have been the source of vexation, the mine from where I was yet to find diamonds. Now I love their spontaneity and their potential and that writing them can be so easy as compared to rewriting an existing manuscript.

I have always loved the idea of writing quickly. Last year, I timed myself and the faster I wrote the better I felt. There is no greater exhilaration than having a few thousand words under your belt at the end of the day. This year has been different. I saw that writing very fast affects the quality of my writing even when I stick to an outline. So, I went back to writing thoughtfully, deliberately, choosing words carefully so that my satisfaction at the end of the day stemmed from writing meaningfully.

And yes, writing buddies are invaluable. Also, the NaNoWriMo forums are awesome. Every once in a while I got frustrated by my lack of progress and I needed to vent. I wrote long rambling angst ridden passages to myself, setting out why I was writing and what things I was trying to accomplish (showing off the NaNoWriMo winner certificate topped the list). Some days, I could not understand what was I doing. Was I writing? Editing? Rewriting? Looking for plot holes and incongruous character development? These were the times when I found that bouncing ideas with my writing friends led to clarity much sooner than a pity party or a rant would have brought. So, I am keeping my sympathisers and critics close to me.

And, also…

There were also things that I hated. I disliked the intrusion of my Inner Editor (IE) very much. The first week goes along fine. That’s the time to ride the crest of your writerly voice. Soon, the IE manages to unshackle itself and show up. Looking over your shoulder, making disparaging remarks; your writing life turns to hell. It’s really important to exercise all your will power and throw the IE back into the dungeon.

I also started obsessing over word count. Usually, I stop writing when I have covered the major points and have said all that I wanted to say and the piece looks complete. Now, I was counting words in my writing and my texting and my talking. I was evaluating every event of my life in terms of how much time it took and how many words I could have written instead.

Being immersed in writing and doing not much else for long stretches of time is my idea of bliss and while I loved every minute of that chance, I also realised that writing too much can and does lead to a burnout. We need breaks. However, this year, I did not have the luxury of doing that because I had spent too much time thinking and rethinking the plot, making some changes in the structure and trying to chase the word count at the same time. Towards the end, I was reduced to talking to myself while walking on the road, alone. I would laugh and frown for no apparent reason, at least not apparent to the people around me. Visualising a new scene put me in a frenzy of writing and after it had been written, I often found myself sitting and typing away in very odd places.

Would I do it all over again, if I had the choice? Yes, of course!

How did you find your NaNoWriMo experience? Please share your insights.

Twelve Tales of Christmas by Cathleen Townsend: Book Review

Title: Twelve Tales of Christmas

Author: Cathleen Townsend

Genre: Short stories, Fiction

Synopsis

Christmas isn’t always Jingle Bells and “Ho, ho, ho.” In these Twelve Tales of Christmas, even Santa has to deal with unexpected German shepherds and reindeer who suddenly want to learn the tango. A dryad works feverishly with a teenage boy to save her tree, now in a stand in his living room, and everyone begs Death to hold off for just one more day.

And no one knows what to do with the fire-breathing dragon. He’s not going on the Christmas card list anytime soon.

Come enter worlds of beauty and dread. Join a house hob as he raises his cup of eggnog high, and enjoy yuletide yarns delicious enough to tempt even St. Nick.

Review

The stories in this collection, meant to be a Chritmas vacation read are delightful, surprising and thankfully all positive because no one wants to feel sad in this season. Every story made me smile. Some for the kindness, others for the love. These tales are magical, more than literally so. The language is lovely. The stories touch your heart in unexpected ways. You feel love, empathy, kindness, hope and joy, which is quite a lot for this short and sweet read.

The language is precise, sharp, witty and the stories present different flavours. Christmas makes up the theme and the spirit of the stories but the settings and the protagonists have a lot of variety.

Short and longer stories are mixed together judiciously. There are short bursts of positivity interspersed with longer, deeper ones. The shorter ones usually leave you with a mood and the longer ones with the feel of the characters. At places, the characterisation is surprising and refreshing like Mori and the irritable dragon in the last and the longest story. The narrative voice is very mature and I loved the language. Each story threw up lovely words at me that evoked new feelings.

I really could not decide which were my most favourite stories. Each one seemed better than the last. ‘The Gift’ portrays the mind of an elderly woman so well that the reader is as delighted as the protagonist. I wished ‘Chritmas Tango’ was longer. And ‘Snowflake’ is both poignant and beautiful. These stories tantalise and because they are short, the reader to forced to think up what happens later. ‘Department Store Santa’ shows a world that is hard up. Everyone has troubles but it is possible to forget them in little lovely moments. I loved the sensitivity of ‘The Angel in the Tree’. ‘Dragon Yule’ is a wonderful fantasy read.

This collection is easy enough for a quick read and rich enough to savour. Read it as your mood demands.

Buy this fantastic book here.

Six years of appreciating trees

Every other Sunday, I post a tree picture for Becca’s Sunday Trees, which is a weekly challenge hosted on her blog, ‘On Dragonfly Wings with Buttercup Tea‘.

I have loved trees all my life, always noticing them, in the unlikeliest of places and times. Through looking at Becca’s trees every week and the numerous other entries there, I feel encouraged to share my own pictures.

This week, Becca completes 6 years of posting trees on her blog. That’s an amazing long time to keep up with your passion.

Wishing her many more years of appreciating trees.

The Quest of the Sparrows: Book Review

Title: The Quest of the Sparrows
Author: Kartik Sharma, Ravi ‘Nirmal’ Sharma
Genre: Spiritual Fiction
Publisher: Rupa Publishing

The Quest of the Sparrows is a simple tale that brings practical spirituality to the reader without being preachy or pedantic. The story of a young, reluctant guru who embarks on a journey with his followers as a way to demonstrate and to test for himself the workings of the Divine, brings nuggets of wisdom that anyone can relate to.

Guru Partibhan has ‘guruhood’ thrust upon him. Considering himself unworthy and unequipped to take over the mantle of his father, who was an eminent spiritual leader, Partibhan starts on a 800 km long journey on foot along with his followers. The test is to see if the Divine would support their journey which they undertake without any food, money or belongings.

Surprising things happen on the way to Ganapatipule, their destination. The followers find many insights which broadens their understanding of situations and of themselves. This is the beginning of the spread of the practical spirituality movement that Guru Partibhan spearheads.

Narrated as a story of a spiritual leader and his followers, all battling the problems that life throws up, looking for peace, the book transcends from being a story and a mere lesson to a guide of how our lives need to be navigated.

The Book’s Premise
The book questions as to why spirituality ends outside a church or temple. Is spirituality a make believe concept that is impractical or should spirituality help us discover who we really are?

The book explores the idea that worry and insecurity limit human potential, making us mere survivors instead of evolutionary beings who contribute with their unique talents and gifts.

Review
Sparrows are considered carefree, gentle birds and when this book titled ‘The Quest of the Sparrows’ came up for a reading, I felt immediately that the book would be light and pleasing. And indeed, the books tackles the serious and the heavy topic of spirituality very simply and joyously.

An advantage is that the characters and the incidents are completely Indian and are very relatable.

The authors of the book are a father son duo. Ravi Nirmal Sharma is an Associate Creative Director with a reputed multinational agency. Kartik Sharma is an investment banker and an alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad.

For the authors, the inspiration for this book arose on watching a sparrow eat a few grains of wheat and then flying away when it’s need was met. This led them to think about what it is that keeps a frail sparrow content but supposedly evolved humans unhappy.

The book is narrated from four different viewpoints. There is Nikhil, who is at the nadir of his existence and wants a way out of his misery. Sanjeev is a cynic due to his own experiences. The Guru also speaks of his own journey, from doubt to evolution. Lastly, there is the man who is motivated only by hate.

The first part of the book whets the appetite while the second part raises questions. It is the third part that brings forth the answers. The last part is the culmination of the story, tying up the characters and the story neatly. The names of the chapters are quite interesting and they follow a medley of their own.

The various seekers in the motley crowd of followers are people we can identify with and the situations and the problems they encounter like road rage, accidents, feeding poor people, helping the needy, taking care of elderly parents are commonplace. And yet, these hold the key to much understanding if people can empathize with others.

The writing is excellent; the pace of the book never slips and the characters are recognisable from the people around us. Something or the other is always happening. At no point does the book slacken.

The characters develop well through the journey and the book.

What I learnt from reading the book

The book addresses every concern that a seeker would have. In my life, I have had various theories and queries and somehow the author managed to address all of these.

Reading the book, I found the courage to be authentic, to be generous and giving, to be trusting and accepting.

I would doubt if Spirituality was a ‘real’ thing or just a brainwashed response? The Quest of the Sparrows provided me the answer and put my doubts to rest.

I understood that we need to connect with our own Higher selves and recognise that the Divine is within all of us. And also, we need to see the beauty and the Divine’s munificence.

As the Guru puts it,

“A song is composed of words, the silence in between, and music. The words slow down or hurry up. The notes climb high, and then descend low. The pace and pitch alter with grace and fluidity. A song touches our hearts in a way nothing else can. I wanted to make my spiritual lessons appear like a song of life. I wanted them to affect the listeners”.

Verdict
The Quest of the Sparrows is a must read for everyone, whether a conscious seeker or not. It would open your mind to new ideas and to a refreshingly liberated way of living.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of the book from the author in exchange of an honest review.