Voracious Readers vs Mere Readers

True book nerds always have a book under their arm or in their digital library. Here are a few things that distinguish a voracious reader from the one who – um, reads the occasional book, because everyone else seems to be reading it.

Photo by Sofia Alejandra from Pexels

1. They are not intimidated by books
Whether it’s a tome or a slim paperback, a classic or a light novella, philosophy or a genre they are most comfortable with, any book is game for the voracious reader provided it’s well-written.

2. They like being hyphenated with books
Book worm, book nerd, book lover are not really derogatory to their ears even when others mean it this way. Anything bookish gets their attention and affection.

3. To them, every place is suited to reading
Window seats, comfortable armchairs, beanbags, a quiet corner of the house, the library – these are mere crutches for the uninitiated. A really voracious reader will grab a book and read with great concentration even in the midst of a noisy mid-day office rush.

4. No eating, only reading is their mantra
Voracious readers are known to shun food in favour of reading. In the unlikely event of them being offered snacks, they would rather not eat and spoil the book/e-reader with their greasy fingers. As per a recent survey, there’s an unexplored market for ‘reader-eats’, snacks that are non-spilling and non-greasy for readers to nourish themselves as they reread the fantasy book series over the weekend.

5. Solitude over company is their priority
Spending weekends curled up with a book while the rest of the world is partying or hiking or whatever they did before and during a pandemic is a no-brainer.

6. Concentration is their middle name
Reading a number of books at the same time, not even losing the threads of the plot or the backstory of the minor characters over the time it takes to finish them all is less-celebrated attribute. However, voracious readers don’t even care what the world thinks about multi-taskers or multi-readers.

Surely, a few things popped into your mind as you read the post. What do you think is a voracious reader’s most striking characteristic?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Creative Writing Exercises: Excerpts from Building a Writing Practice

Daily 20 minute exercises to energize and get your creative juices flowing



Creative writing exercises can help you warm-up for a marathon writing session, beat the dreaded writer’s block, give you variety in your writing and a sense of accomplishment when you finish these.

These warm up exercises help you get into the mood and get flexible over a period of time. You won’t look at your writing projects with dread anymore.

You can take 20 – 30 minutes doing these everyday. If there is a particular exercise you like very much, you can of course repeat it. If there’s an exercise that confuses you, you can of course come back to it later.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Find analogies for everyday life

“If people were like rain, I was like drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

John Green


Unconventional comparisons of things and events in your writing will make the reader take notice. Make sure that the metaphors and the analogues actually fit and are not written for the sake of it.

Exercise: Describe your routine and find comparisons to make things poetic. Pouring water into the pan for making tea could be akin to a symphony in your mind. As you dust the furniture, the dust motes rising in the air might remind you of dandelions as they disintegrate. Find at least ten different analogies.

How does it help: When you make a connection between unrelated things, you are being creative. It helps you to look for connections in an original manner and to be able to spot netaphors and similes in others’ writing.

All your bestsellers

“A summary of every Jewish holiday. They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

Alan King

Some days you seem to be full of so many story ideas that you don’t know where yo begin. Make it a practice to write down your ideas when they occur to you. Keep a dedicated notebook for your ideas, phrases that catch your fancy or even moments that touch you deeply.

Exercise: Imagine you are going to write half a dozen bestsellers. Now go ahead and write the book blurbs for them.

How does it help: It preserves your story ideas and gives you an understanding of a catchy blurb that draws in a reader.

Be Famous



“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard



Exercise: Summarise your average day with an eye on events as a newspaper headline reporting sensational news. Rather than writing about one event in your day, summarize your entire day as several different newspaper headlines. Go for a few click bait titles while you are at it. A few examples:


“Stressed employee regrets not emailing the reports on time.”

“Hungry cat escapes home; finds a feast in the neighbourhood garbage dump.” (If you are a cat)

How does it help: It incorporates fun in your writing, making you adept at looking at things from a different angle and of course, putting you at the centre of the story.

If you liked the writing exercises, you can head over to the Blogchatter library and download my ebook for free.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Building a Writing Practice: The Backstory

This year I wrote a book. What’s amazing is that the book is for writers and about building your writing skills and it got written in the midst of a writing drought of sorts.

I had planned to write every day this year for A2Z. Of course, life happened and though I had planned a bit and had outlines and rough drafts of a few posts, that was not enough. It wasn’t just a not-enough-time kind of thing. It was a sense of dread and even a deadening with the second wave of Covid wreaking havoc across India.

I knew of people who suffered through illness or death of their loved ones. It felt a travesty of sorts, writing about books, celebrating stories when there was so much that had to be righted in the world.

But art has a way to redeem and to heal. In difficult times, we turn to art and creative activities because it’s an outlet of our emotions. It’s subtle, can be interpreted in any way your mental state allows you to and through the power of strong imagery or association you can find healing.

I needed to get back to writing, not just talk of other books but my own beliefs. I needed the discipline and the guidance to keep writing, improve in little ways without feeling stressed or pushed to perform spectacularly. I needed to write, progress even if in little bits and have the satisfaction that I was working on my craft. I needed to go full steam when I felt better emotionally.

So I wrote the book I needed to read. I collated writing exercises that I have used and that I liked. I put them together, in no particular order. I explained them briefly and mentioned how they help.

But I was reticent still. I didn’t want to read long drawn passages so I wrote with directness and brevity, trusting that my readers, if there were any, would want the same. Lastly, I put the emotional connect that I had with the exercises, through quotes of eminent writers, people with great wisdom who knew what they were saying.

I published this short book as an e-book to reach the reader who has the time to spend on digital platforms but is still too weary or unable to pick a physical book.

It’s available for free download in Blogchatter library. There are a number of other books there, in many genres so maybe you would like to explore a bit and find a few good reads.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

The House by the Sea by Louise Douglas

The book title has 2 things that I absolutely am fascinated with. House and Sea. Not to mention the completely enticing book cover that shows a lovely house with a wrought iron gate that’s open a little bit as if inviting the reader in. And that’s how I chose to read it when I found it a few weeks back.

Edie is walking the dogs near the river when her friend calls to tell her that her mother-in-law Anna DeLuca is dead. She’s bitterly relieved and we learn of her estrangement not just with her mother-in-law but also her husband. We also learn of her son Daniel whom she lost many years ago and how she blames Anna for it.

It seems it’s the time to go to Sicily and claim and settle what Anna has left her – the family villa that Edie was supposed to have visited with child Daniel but never did. It also means she would have to work out the inheritance details with her husband Joe, leading to an awkward time that she absolutely wants to avoid.

However Edie turns up at Sicily and falls in love with the now-neglected but still beautiful house surrounded by verdant grounds, now overgrown, and the sea.

It’s the mood that Louise captures that kept me enthralled. The house of course is described so beautifully, from its architecture to its flora to its supposed ghosts.

The book has a little bit of a supernatural element, just a very little, enough to keep you feeling the charm and the magic of the place. There were times when I wondered what was I reading. Was it a ghost story, was it a romance, was it a murder mystery, was it supposed to be a thriller? There are elements of all of these and as I turned the pages, keeping pace with the unfolding story seemed the easiest thing to do. There’s no point obsessing over the genre or slotting the book into a particular type. That it is extremely well written and engrossing should be enough for the reader.

The handling of emotions and the way the transformation comes in Edie’s and Joe’s lives had me rooting for them all through. The house is a living creature of course, I too could feel the little graveyard, the ghosts of the generations gone by, the places where so many happy moments were spent, I haven’t had this connection with a house since I read and dreamt of Rebecca’s Manderley.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Of Bananas and Mangoes and other Foods in Between

The heat wave is really something this year (that’s how it feels every summer). There have been storms and a few weeks ago strong winds broke a branch of the banana tree that was already weighed down by a huge bunch.

Two of us adults had to lift it and carry it inside. We speculated on how long it would take to ripen them. We googled ways to ripen bananas naturally. I picked a few and packed them away in a brown paper bag with a couple of ripe tomatoes (it’s best if you have apples but I didn’t have them at this time of the year). Oh, that reminds me of the deliciously juicy green apples you can get in the hills by June end.

In the meanwhile I got to making as many things as possible with raw Bananas. Banana chips were a favourite with the kids. Then came raw banana fritters and veggie made from it. As the bunch ripened, we got to distributing them, graduating to making milkshakes and lastly many, many batches of banana bread.

The storms also brought down mangoes from the trees in the house. There were a few rounds of mango pickle, then sour chutneys and the sweet version, some dishes that neighbours and relatives suggested and finally mango shakes and ice cream.

It’s quite exciting to be getting fresh fruit and last year I realised (after a bounty of mangoes and home grown veggies) that the taste is really different from the produce we buy from the market.

While we started a small vegetable patch we also made sure to scout out more local vegetables. As it is, because of the strict lockdown last year, there was a glut of fresh vegetables in the market since the nearby villagers could not go very far to sell them.

Talking to the vegetable vendors I also realised that buying local means fresher vegetables, with their nutrients intact because they haven’t been lost in transit and lesser pesticides and other chemicals used to preserve their freshness.

I know I am also supporting the local farmers even if in a small way. It can understand that it makes some difference  because I talk to the people who get the vegetables from their own small farms or landholdings in the villages. And this connection with people I wouldn’t know otherwise enriches me with a knowledge of their lives.

In a way it’s thrilling to not choose what you are going to eat today but depend on which vegetables your vendor is going to get, all of which is guaranteed to be fresh and seasonal. It’s also making me more resourceful.

I know that buying local has a positive impact in the environment. There are fewer pesticides involved. Fewer transportation means a lower carbon footprint. In fact there’s something called food miles, the distance our food travels when it reaches us. The greater the miles, the more adverse impact on the environment. Local foods are mostly organic, if used for local markets and there aren’t many artificial ripening processes involved.

We really enjoy buying the litchis, mangoes and jamuns right from outside the orchards. Sometimes they even pluck the fruit right in front of us. Frankly, now that we can connect with the food we are eating, we can appreciate the hard work that goes into growing it and the people who are dependent on them for their livelihood.

It is said that buying local can help protect genetic diversity. Some fruits like the loquat and shehtoot and bel are not available commercially very readily. We are fortunate that we can source them here, if not very often, atleast once in a while.

Hopefully, when we buy these veggies and fruits we encourage the green spaces people have in their backyards and large vacant plots. My vegetable vendor frequently gets vegetables that he says have been dropped in by someone or the other who just had a lot of vegetables in his garden and couldn’t use it all.

Going local can make a difference on an individual level that becomes a movement when more of us practice it.

This post is part of CauseAChatter, and I am talking about Environment.

Also posted for Blogchatter Half Marathon.

10-Day projects to turn around the way you feel

When we talk of the pandemic and the emotions we associate with it, words like anxiety, uncertainty, stress come forth from most people. The fact is that in the past year and a half there has been an unprecedented rise in people reporting behaviour that points to a mental health crisis.

Not all of us think we are overwhelmed enough to warrant a trip to the therapist. We think we have coped with harder things so why should this be any different. However, even after all these months, after the lockdowns and changed social behaviour and the shattered hope that once we have the magic wand of vaccines everything would be just as before, we still have uncertainty.

Still at home, stepping out tentatively, learning to manage routines that keep us safe, it’s time to relearn how to recharge. There’s a sense of weariness, of does-this even-matter, to sameness, so much so that many of us crave an energy boost.

Over the past few months, I have repeatedly tried to kickstart a fitness routine having fallen off the bandwagon sometime last year. I enjoy long walks, occasional runs, yoga, aerobics, meditation and now suddenly I had no energy to do any of these. The walks are now limited to a small area, which I guess feel restrictive. With the limited stepping-out activities of the household, I now have all the time in the day to exercise but can’t seem to stick to a routine.

Recently, I was reading an article by Cami Ostman, a family therapist, on ways to recharge and to break out of a slump with a nod to the different situation we are in today. She talks about creating personal challenges  with a firm time frame. She created a 10 day challenge to run everyday for 10 miles. The idea is to do something that you love, to push yourself out of your comfort zone and get a sense of accomplishment. And all this in a very doable time frame that doesn’t stretch into weeks or months of an unforseeable future. And it offers a feeling of being in control of one little part of your life.

So there it was – the way out for me. In the past few weeks I have started multiple 10 day projects. I have revamped the kitchen (ok, just improved the looks) with wallpaper and painting and by cleaning and throwing out clutter. I have reclaimed a little patch of the garden for my seedling experiments. I am journaling and feeling better for dumping my worries on the paper. And I am about to begin on my fitness routine.

I really feel this is a good way to feel satisfied that I am making an effort and there is a result attached to it. Try this simple way to recharge and let me know what you think of it.

This post is part of CauseAChatter, and I am talking about Mental Health.

Also posted for Blogchatter Half Marathon.

What’s In a Name

A talentless bard called Cacofonix (people have a really difficult time when he sings as in it’s a cacophony), a dog called Dogmatix, an elderly person Geriatrix (the association with geriatics) the druid who mixes up a magic potion that makes his villagers invincible is called Getafix. The star of the story, why, Asterix!

A few more notables are Crismus Bonus, Fuliautomatix, Vitalstatistix, Psychoanalytix, Orthopedic, Impedimenta, Bacteria and more. There are around 400 characters in all the Asterix books and taking a good look at the names is the first thing I do.

Image from Wikipedia

Clever names are just one part of the charm of Asterix comics. The puns and the jokes are another level and have a lot of cultural, artistic and political allusions. When you get the joke, well, you feel smart and superior to those who didn’t get them. The Latin is another matter though. Knowing the literal meaning of phrases doesn’t help, you have to understand the grammatical nuances (of Latin, yes huh is my reaction all the time), know the context in the story and tie up the dialogue of the characters to see how the joke/pun is ‘closed’.

Written in French originally by Goscinny and Uderzo, the writer and illustrator team, Asterix has now been translated to more than 100 languages. Translator Anthea Bell has been responsible for bringing these delightful books to English readers.

Coming back to the names, Asterix, the star is also a typographical symbol used to denote a footnote. Obelix, his side kick, meaning a large monument, alluding to his size, denotes another typographical symbol, used when there is a second footnote. From this, you can get an idea of the layers of meaning in everything in the series. There is a challenge in keeping the wit alive as the books are translated to other languages.

The dog in the books is simply called Dogmatix, which is a play on the word ‘dogmatic’ or maybe it’s just because it has the dog in it? In Hindi, Dogmatix changes to ‘Kutta Bhaunkix’ (don’t cringe, I am sure it’s all very funny).

Even though the story revolves around the Romans determined to conquer a little Gaulish village (most of Gaul has already been conquered – the time is 50 B.C.) and even when there’s the army and ambushes in plenty there’s no real bloodshed. The battles are not gory; rather they are funny by virtue of the cleverness of some characters and utter stupidity of others.

The battles, ludicrous challenges and laughter inducing situations all end with a feast under the starry night where wild boar is eaten and Cacofonix is ‘usually’ tied up after he plays a few notes.

I am now (re)reading ‘Asterix the Gaul’, the first in the series. If you an Asterix fan, maybe you can tell me what do people do with the menhirs that Obelix keeps delivering?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Make Friends with a Tree

My morning ritual involves spending time with plants and trees. I pull up a chair and sit close to a bush I love or next to the hardy aloe vera cluster whom I have never really attended to as much as I should have. Sometimes I put my arms around the jasmine bush, now pruned and skinny. The mighty mango trees; mighty because the thick trunks speak of many years on this earth have me intimidated. I put out a hand on the trunk so that I feel connected. I stand underneath the spreading canopy of the guava tree that had white flowers a few weeks back and that’s now bearing tiny fruit. I ruffle through the curry leaves tree. There’s a tree that’s suspected to be Amaltas (why hasn’t it borne any flowers?). There’s another one with tiny red flowers, which look more like thin strips of colour. There’s a tree of indeterminate name and lineage. It’s thorny and looks hardy. There’s peepal in the vacant lot next door, the heart shaped, fresh green leaves showing up above the boundary wall. And the little flowers growing from a green clump of what looks like grass open when the sun is out and close at sunset. 

When I read an article in Wall Street Journal on how a woman and her children made friends with a tree and felt happier and calmer I immediately thought of my tree gang. Just the thought of spending time quietly near a tree made me feel happier.

Years ago, I read a book on emotional quotient. It talked of the benefits of being connected with nature. At a workplace, even a single live plant can bring peace. No wonder, little potted desk plants are so popular.

All of us do not have the luxury of huge gardens or even easy access to green spaces. So balcony gardens, hanging plants, planters in corners can bring in the much needed greenery into our homes. The simple act of watering the plants, nurturing them, watching them grow can be soothing. If you are mindful in the time you spend with your plants, it can bring much peace.

For most of us, there’s a lot of anxiety bubbling inside us, as we navigate the pandemic. Distractions help only for a short while but something as simple as nurturing a plant can lead to a mindset shift. From trying to subdue the stress, you are actively managing it through your green friends. Being surrounded by plants also boosts creativity. I wasn’t aware of this but that might be the reason I like to think and do my writing sitting under a tree.

Having some green plants even if you live in a small flat is doable and has plenty of emotional benefits. And of course, along with our own emotional well-being, we are contributing to the well-being of our environment.

This post is part of CauseAChatter and Blogchatter Half Marathon, and I am talking about Environment.

Breads and Breakfast by Shail Thosani: Book Review

Title: Breads and Breakfast
Author: Shail Thosani
Genre: Food, Cookbook
Format: Ebook

Blurb

Cooking a variety dish does not mean it has to be complicated and lengthy. The cookbook contains two sections, the first section is based on simple and easy to make recipes using breads (both brown and white) and the second section has very easy to make breakfast recipes. Each and every recipe has very simple and easy to follow steps and the outcome dish, be it using breads or from the breakfast section, all have very unique flavors.


About the Author

Shail is a homechef and loves to cook different dishes and also bakes cakes and breads. She is a lawyer by profession but that has never stopped her from pursuing her passion for cooking. You can subscribe to to her website https://alawyerskitchen.com and also follow her on instagram and Twitter under the name alawyerskitchen and also follow and like her page on facebook under the name alawyerskitchen.

Review

Breads intrigue me; they are very versatile and fillings and toppings can make the world of a difference to the final dish. The same goes for breakfast recipes. With so many kinds from all cuisines, there’s a lot that can be done to experiment and to explore new flavours.

Shail’s book is a delightful mix of recipes with much-loved staples introduced to dishes made with bread.

I tried the Double Cheese Bread Pizza with delightful results. It was easy to bake and the final dish very professional looking. Finding Focaccia was a woah moment as I had been wanting to bake it at home.

The recipes are easy and simple to follow and can bolster the confidence of a wannabe cook. The pictures are enough to tempt you and also reassure that these are real food pics clicked by the author and hence doable. The ingredients required are easily available in our kitchens or in nearby stores.

Each recipe has a short introduction that explains the dish, how it can be served and what it can be paired with.

Mumbai street food flavours, classic breads, pizza with a twist, cheesy breads, vegetarian omelette like dishes, pancakes without eggs and pancakes with mixed veggies, different kinds of idlis and breakfasts using ragi, the range is quite delectable.

Verdict

Simple and easy breakfast dishes or evening snacks, the book has a variety of recipes with very different flavours. A good book for beginners and those trying to add variety to their cooking.

This book is available for free download here.

The post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Xanadu by Harshita Nanda: Book Review

Title: Xanadu
Author: Harshita Nanda
Format: Ebook

Xanadu is a sensitive portrayal of the harsh realities and the sweet redemption following the life arc of 3 people; lonely and struggling and finding succour in their companionship.

Book Blurb

A young girl is living a simple life surrounded by nature and the love of her parents. An earthquake destroys her home and changes her life forever.

A young boy is struggling with the loss of his mother. As a reward for honesty, he gets a step up in life but has to leave behind all that is familiar.

An old lady lives alone, surrounded by memories and whispers of the past.

What is the link between the three?

Where is their Xanadu?

About the Author

Harshita Nanda is an avid reader and a lover of the written word. A chance win at a short story competition ignited the writing spark in her. Starting from book reviews, she moved on to writing short stories and dabbling in flash fiction. Xanadu is her first time attempting a novella.

The Story

Miss Anita, a vivacious, beautiful Anglo Indian, who has everything when it comes to material possessions and love, sees a turn of tides. The partition of India changes her world and opportunities. To her lonely existence comes Bhoomi, a young girl who has been uprooted from her home in the hills because of an earthquake that destroyed their home and took away her father. The child finds a kindly and maternal figure in Miss Anita as she navigates a hostile time with her relatives. Harish is the troubled and mischievous boy, whose father has brought him to the big town for the treatment of his wife who passes away.

Emotionally scarred, the three seek out each other’s company. But fate’s twists separates them as they go their ways in search of better lives. Will they be happy? Can they ever be reunited?

Review

Right from the first page, I was engrossed in the story that felt familiar in a way, for it spoke of the people I have seen growing up. The young children, their parents, their extended families and societal reactions, the insights of the author are commendable. 

The places, the hills, the villages and the towns where much of the story is set radiated a warmth. There is a depth to the detailing of the setting, no matter which the place is. I could feel at ease whether it was the village or the gardens of large houses, an army officer’s residence or even New York.

The characters in the book are very relatable. The protagonists have been sketched out so well; one can understand their thoughts and emotions and their life choices. Their struggles are unfortunate but I could understand all the situations.

The story arc is developed in an excellent way. Even though the story spans decades, you never lose touch of the emotional turmoil of the characters.

Verdict

Xanadu is a novella of beauty and emotional depth. Spanning lifetimes, decades and places, it’s a heartwarming story of ties that may not be familial but that bind and comfort.

The book is available for free download here.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.