Merry Christmas and a very happy new year in advance.
During this time of the year, we have a local book fair hosted in my part of the city. This is a kind of warm up to the International Kolkata Book Fair (world’s largest non-trade book fair). Bought myself a few bookish presents :)
Okay, here’s the lot:
Great Cases of Interpol by Reader’s Digest Association
A top notch collection of real life cases with photos and illustrations. “Not to be read in a single sitting” as my favorite editorial duo Mr Wagner and Mr Wise often suggests for anthologies. Too generous a ration of crime may defeat its intended purpose.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Okay, I admit I haven’t read it. It has become a bedtime partner since yesterday and seems like a modern Dickensian work. Bought it for what would be about $2.00 in US currency. Can’t stop congratulating myself. The deal itself was worth the delay. Dash it, it wasn’t.
Reader’s Digest Illustrated Story of World War II
Being a history buff, I am rather happy that I bought this one. Definitely not for scholars and provides just an overview of WW II, but makes an interesting presentation with lots of rare pictures.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad
Any bookish party is incomplete without vintage, fragile penguins. So here they are. Haven’t read them, but they are already my favorites.
So what do you think of the lot? What have you bought this Christmas?
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Brood of the Witch Queen is one of the creepiest and scariest books of Sax Rohmer — the creator of the fiendish Fu Manchu and Sumuru. Originally serialized in a British Magazine, this intriguing Egyptian tale of ancient curse and black magic takes you from London to Cairo involving a great adventure.
Set in London in the early 1900s, this is a tale of ancient sorcery with vampires and crawly bugs. Dr. Richard and Robert Cairn fights against diabolical powers and a dark figure called Anthony Ferarra. And the odds turn terrible when Ferarra’s ancient ancestor — a Polish/Jewish witch that placed a curse on her husband’s family — casts her evil shadow.
Rohmer’s novel reflects his passion for dramatic prose and abrupt ending. Also, the characterization seems a bit wooden. Nonetheless, Brood of the Witch Queen holds a lot of value in terms of pulp entertainment. This fast moving novel is full of adventure and creepy scenes. The plot, though predictable, will not disappoint you. Though the book is about a century old, it does not seem much dated.
Not a perfect story, pretty much over the top, but Brood of the Witch Queen is pure escapist fun.
Jewel of the Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Brood of the Witch Queen by Sax Rohmer ebook Download
Note: Back again from a disturbed slumber. Hope you are still there.
You always wanted to be there. You always dreamed of being there. You’d leave all you’ve got just to be there, once and for all.
If you were offered a one way trip to the spectacular, fantastic places you discovered in the books, where would you go? Would you be a wizard, a warrior, an Emperor or a damsel in distress?
Here are a few options in no particular order:
“It was so long ago and far away …
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.”
— Robert E. Howard:
For an eternal savage longing to wield his sword, the sinister continent of Cimmeria is the place to be. Thanks to Tolkien and his faithful sidekicks, 20th century had had its share of fruity elves and Rivendellesque places. If you are a peerless warrior or a real badass, you want to wake up in the frozen wastes of war-like Cimmeria.
You can hate it or may love it but the blood soaked, treacherous land of Westeros cannot be kept out of the equation. Accusations are GRR Martin just re-imagined Britain roughly around the time of the War of the Roses. He simply studied a period of history and ripped it off. Well, he did it damn good. Westeros is certainly more alive and believable than a lot others of its kind. If you are a strategic statesman born in the wrong age, plan a time travel to Westeros for a game of thrones. You win or you die.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom could be in the list simply because of the number of rip offs it inspired. Right from Lin Carter to Michael Moorcock, Barsoom has inspired a generation of writers as deeply as it has affected the imagination of the readers. The ridiculously unbelievable yet immensely entertaining and evocative world building is just irresistible. So what if I am worthless in this world? My future lies in a world away.
Lewis’ Narnia is widely considered by critics as one of the most consistent and internally sound example of world building. It does seem to have its own philosophy and preaching, but Lewis somehow makes it easy for the readers to escape to Narnia with a kind of homely magic that we do not commonly find in the Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potter. And of course, the landscape of Narnia comforts you with an optimism that is rare in the real world. Let the peaceful among us find shelter in Lewis’ magical realm.
Let them say you walked with the giants and dwelt in the Middle-earth. Tolkien’s Middle-earth has stood the onslaught of a number accusations including but not limited to being cold, barren and boring, and written in wooden language. Nonetheless, it has transcended over others to become a piece of art. The rich and detailed world building is simply awe inspiring. Anyone who doesn’t like it is clearly an Orc.
So what’s your favorite fictional world? And what role would you like to play there?
The Maltese Falcon, widely regarded as the mother of all noir novels, has been immortalized by the classic Humphrey Bogart flick. If you have seen the movie but haven’t read the book, you are missing more than you can imagine.
The Maltese Falcon features Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s self-serving San Francisco detective. When Sam’s partner is murdered, the cops put the blame on the detective. Things get super complicated when a gorgeous woman begs for Sam’s help, bad guys demand a payoff from Sam, and a mystery develops around a priceless gold statuette of a falcon.
The coolest thing about the book is Sam Spade himself. He talks, fights, and flirts with inimitable style. Hammett’s style is pretty much straight forward and without too much description. The focus is more on action; the story is high on murder, betrayal, and sex. The plot, as you may guess, is highly intelligent and intricate.
The Maltese Falcon is a solid proof of the fact that even pulp/crime fiction can be a classic. It stands the test of time and the plot makes as much sense today as it did in 1930. For most readers, The Maltese Falcon will be even more appealing than even Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Farewell, my Lovely.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer
The Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai, has won the Man Booker International prize (worth £60,000). Chair of judges Marina Warner described him as “a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present-day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful”. She also added that Krasznahorkai, being a non-English writer, has “been superbly served by his translators”, George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet, who will share the £15,000 translators’ prize.
Krasznahorkai’s notable works include Satantango and The Melancholy of Resistance.
The ten shortlisted writers:
César Aira (Argentina)
Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)
Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)
Mia Couto (Mozambique)
Amitav Ghosh (India)
Fanny Howe (USA)
Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya)
László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)
Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo)
Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)
Sometime back we shared 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime: A List by Amazon on The Book Haven. Here is another list by The Guardian and this one is quite different from Amazon’s list. What’s your take on it?
Check out the list on The Guardian.
- Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes
The story of the gentle knight and his servant Sancho Panza has entranced readers for centuries.
- Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan
The one with the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair.
- Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
The first English novel.
- Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
A wonderful satire that still works for all ages, despite the savagery of Swift’s vision.
- Tom Jones Henry Fielding
The adventures of a high-spirited orphan boy: an unbeatable plot and a lot of sex ending in a blissful marriage.
- Clarissa Samuel Richardson
One of the longest novels in the English language, but unputdownable.
- Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne
One of the first bestsellers, dismissed by Dr Johnson as too fashionable for its own good.
- Dangerous Liaisons Pierre Choderlos De Laclos
An epistolary novel and a handbook for seducers: foppish, French, and ferocious.
- Emma Jane Austen
Near impossible choice between this and Pride and Prejudice. But Emma never fails to fascinate and annoy.
- Frankenstein Mary Shelley
Inspired by spending too much time with Shelley and Byron.
- Nightmare Abbey Thomas Love Peacock
A classic miniature: a brilliant satire on the Romantic novel.
- The Black SheepHonoré De Balzac
Two rivals fight for the love of a femme fatale. Wrongly overlooked.
- The Charterhouse of Parma Stendhal
Penetrating and compelling chronicle of life in an Italian court in post-Napoleonic France.
- The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
A revenge thriller also set in France after Bonaparte: a masterpiece of adventure writing.
- Sybil Benjamin Disraeli
Apart from Churchill, no other British political figure shows literary genius.
- David Copperfield Charles Dickens
This highly autobiographical novel is the one its author liked best.
- Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë
Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have passed into the language. Impossible to ignore.
- Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
Obsessive emotional grip and haunting narrative.
- Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
The improving tale of Becky Sharp.
- The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
A classic investigation of the American mind.
- Moby-Dick Herman Melville
‘Call me Ishmael’ is one of the most famous opening sentences of any novel.
- Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
You could summarise this as a story of adultery in provincial France, and miss the point entirely.
- The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
Gripping mystery novel of concealed identity, abduction, fraud and mental cruelty.
- Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll
A story written for the nine-year-old daughter of an Oxford don that still baffles most kids.
- Little Women Louisa M. Alcott
Victorian bestseller about a New England family of girls.
- The Way We Live Now Anthony Trollope
A majestic assault on the corruption of late Victorian England.
- Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
The supreme novel of the married woman’s passion for a younger man.
- Daniel Deronda George Eliot
A passion and an exotic grandeur that is strange and unsettling.
- The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mystical tragedy by the author of Crime and Punishment.
- The Portrait of a Lady Henry James
The story of Isabel Archer shows James at his witty and polished best.
- Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Twain was a humorist, but this picture of Mississippi life is profoundly moral and still incredibly influential.
- The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson
A brilliantly suggestive, resonant study of human duality by a natural storyteller.
- Three Men in a Boat Jerome K. Jerome
One of the funniest English books ever written.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
A coded and epigrammatic melodrama inspired by his own tortured homosexuality.
- The Diary of a Nobody George Grossmith
This classic of Victorian suburbia will always be renowned for the character of Mr Pooter.
- Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
Its savage bleakness makes it one of the first twentieth-century novels.
- The Riddle of the Sands Erskine Childers
A prewar invasion-scare spy thriller by a writer later shot for his part in the Irish republican rising.
- The Call of the Wild Jack London
The story of a dog who joins a pack of wolves after his master’s death.
- Nostromo Joseph Conrad
Conrad’s masterpiece: a tale of money, love and revolutionary politics.
- The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
This children’s classic was inspired by bedtime stories for Grahame’s son.
- In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust
An unforgettable portrait of Paris in the belle époque. Probably the longest novel on this list.
- The Rainbow D. H. Lawrence
Novels seized by the police, like this one, have a special afterlife.
- The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
This account of the adulterous lives of two Edwardian couples is a classic of unreliable narration.
- The Thirty-Nine Steps John Buchan
A classic adventure story for boys, jammed with action, violence and suspense.
- Ulysses James Joyce
Also pursued by the British police, this is a novel more discussed than read.
- Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf
Secures Woolf’s position as one of the great twentieth-century English novelists.
- A Passage to India EM Forster
Forster’s great love song to India.
- The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
The quintessential Jazz Age novel.
- The Trial Franz Kafka
The enigmatic story of Joseph K.
- Men Without Women Ernest Hemingway
He is remembered for his novels, but it was the short stories that first attracted notice.
- Journey to the End of the Night Louis-Ferdinand Celine
The experiences of an unattractive slum doctor during the Great War: a masterpiece of linguistic innovation.
- As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
A strange black comedy by an American master.
- Brave New World Aldous Huxley
Dystopian fantasy about the world of the seventh century AF (after Ford).
- Scoop Evelyn Waugh
The supreme Fleet Street novel.
- USA John Dos Passos
An extraordinary trilogy that uses a variety of narrative devices to express the story of America.
- The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
Introducing Philip Marlowe: cool, sharp, handsome – and bitterly alone.
- The Pursuit Of Love Nancy Mitford
An exquisite comedy of manners with countless fans.
- The Plague Albert Camus
A mysterious plague sweeps through the Algerian town of Oran.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
This tale of one man’s struggle against totalitarianism has been appropriated the world over.
- Malone Dies Samuel Beckett
Part of a trilogy of astonishing monologues in the black comic voice of the author of Waiting for Godot.
- Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
A week in the life of Holden Caulfield. A cult novel that still mesmerises.
- Wise Blood Flannery O’Connor
A disturbing novel of religious extremism set in the Deep South.
- Charlotte’s Web EB White
How Wilbur the pig was saved by the literary genius of a friendly spider.
- The Lord Of The Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
- Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis
An astonishing debut: the painfully funny English novel of the Fifties.
- Lord of the Flies William Golding
Schoolboys become savages: a bleak vision of human nature.
- The Quiet American Graham Greene
Prophetic novel set in 1950s Vietnam.
- On the Road Jack Kerouac
The Beat Generation bible.
- Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
Humbert Humbert’s obsession with Lolita is a tour de force of style and narrative.
- The Tin Drum Günter Grass
Hugely influential, Rabelaisian novel of Hitler’s Germany.
- Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
Nigeria at the beginning of colonialism. A classic of African literature.
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
A writer who made her debut in The Observer – and her prose is like cut glass.
- To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
Scout, a six-year-old girl, narrates an enthralling story of racial prejudice in the Deep South.
- Catch-22 Joseph Heller
‘He would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.’
- Herzog Saul Bellow
Adultery and nervous breakdown in Chicago.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez
A postmodern masterpiece.
- Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont Elizabeth Taylor
A haunting, understated study of old age.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John Le Carré
A thrilling elegy for post-imperial Britain.
- Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
The definitive novelist of the African-American experience.
- The Bottle Factory Outing Beryl Bainbridge
Macabre comedy of provincial life.
- The Executioner’s Song Norman Mailer
This quasi-documentary account of the life and death of Gary Gilmore is possibly his masterpiece.
- If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller Italo Calvino
A strange, compelling story about the pleasures of reading.
- A Bend in the River VS Naipaul
The finest living writer of English prose. This is his masterpiece: edgily reminiscent of Heart of Darkness.
- Waiting for the Barbarians JM Coetzee
Bleak but haunting allegory of apartheid by the Nobel prizewinner.
- Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
Haunting, poetic story, drowned in water and light, about three generations of women.
- Lanark Alasdair Gray
Seething vision of Glasgow. A Scottish classic.
- The New York Trilogy Paul Auster
Dazzling metaphysical thriller set in the Manhattan of the 1970s.
- The BFG Roald Dahl
A bestseller by the most popular postwar writer for children of all ages.
- The Periodic Table Primo Levi
A prose poem about the delights of chemistry.
- Money Martin Amis
The novel that bags Amis’s place on any list.
- An Artist of the Floating World Kazuo Ishiguro
A collaborator from prewar Japan reluctantly discloses his betrayal of friends and family.
- Oscar And Lucinda Peter Carey
A great contemporary love story set in nineteenth-century Australia by double Booker prizewinner.
- The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Milan Kundera
Inspired by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, this is a magical fusion of history, autobiography and ideas.
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories Salman Rushdie
In this entrancing story Rushdie plays with the idea of narrative itself.
- LA Confidential James Ellroy
Three LAPD detectives are brought face to face with the secrets of their corrupt and violent careers.
- Wise Children Angela Carter
A theatrical extravaganza by a brilliant exponent of magic realism.
- Atonement Ian McEwan
Acclaimed short-story writer achieves a contemporary classic of mesmerising narrative conviction.
- Northern Lights Philip Pullman
Lyra’s quest weaves fantasy, horror and the play of ideas into a truly great contemporary children’s book.
- American Pastoral Philip Roth
For years, Roth was famous for Portnoy’s Complaint . Recently, he has enjoyed an extraordinary revival.
- Austerlitz W. G. Sebald
Posthumously published volume in a sequence of dream-like fictions spun from memory, photographs and the German past.
Michael Moorcock is a self-professed Tolkien separatist. In his essay Epic Pooh, he accuses The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other works of glorifying war, preaching “cowardly self-protection,” avoiding the subject of death, and forcing a happy ending upon the reader (as summed up by Wikipedia).
“I met Tolkien on his home ground in Oxford. I really don’t have much to say, except I was a little embarrassed, having written to Tolkien to tell him I was collecting all his books and then discovering I didn’t like them very much.”
Also, he proudly confessed “I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas”
In this light, it became a desperate necessity for me to read Elric of Melnibone (the first book in Moorcock’s epic fantasy series) and check out what exactly was he trying to prove.
In my humble opinion, Moorcock has been true to his word. He is indeed “… a bad writer with big ideas…”
Elric is an albino emperor of a race of dragon lords. Even with his sorceries, he seems a weakling and his cousin Yyrkoon attempts to usurp power from him. The attempt fails and the villain is imprisoned, but he escapes from prison and flees to a distant land and abducts Elric’s beloved — Cymoril. To reach him and rescue his love, Elric needs to seek help from the manipulative chaos lords, use sorceries, travel to the netherworld and most importantly, requires a ship that can travel over land and sea. What happens next?
The underdeveloped yet innovative concepts: A mirror that can steal memories, a ship that can travel over land and sea, and swords that can exert their own will deserve mention. The gods, including the chaos lord, are intriguing.
The story is descent enough and it is certainly not a LoTR clone. It could have reached epic proportions in more mature hands. Elric of Melnibone is a fairly fast and action packed tale. The author has enough sense to wrap up the story in 200 pages.
What’s not so good
The writing is juvenile at best. The dialogues are a joke. The characters are one dimensional and underdeveloped. The world building is highly flawed. The plot lacks depth.
The protagonist is weak (that was deliberate though) and unlikable. The villain seems weaker and not up to the job. The female lead is rather boring.
Too simplistic to be iconic
Perhaps it is. Compared to G.RR Matrin and Tolkien, Elric seems to be Kindergarten stuff. However, the first book isn’t the entire series. I am going to read the next books in the series and also The History of the Runestaff. It is widely regarded that Moorcock’s later writings have more subtlety, better prose and improved insights. It is undeniable that he influenced a generation of writers and that must be for a reason.
To sum up, Elric, unlike The Hobbit or LoTR, is not a work of art. Tolkiens’s philological scholarship, his deep knowledge of mythology, and his world-building skills are virtually non-existent in Moorcock’s saga and it doesn’t look like the later books would match up to Tolkien’s high standards. However, a reader of the genre cannot afford to miss the Elric series simply because of its cult status and atypical approach. It least Moorcock dared to step out of Tolkien’s long shadow and that in itself is an achievement.