Coming back?

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I’ve just changed my blog’s theme for a fresher look.

Even though I’m extremely busy these days, I feel like coming back on wordpress to post at least once a week. Because I do miss life here. I never felt left out – on the contrary, I met lots of people sharing the same passion for books. My days had a purpose – I’d read something amazing to share on the blog later. And I was always looking forward to my favourite bloggers’ next post.

Oddly enough my blog has been doing quite well without me – statistically speaking. I very rarely get less than 50 views and my number of views per day regularly peaks around 90. Today itself I got 97 views, which is quite crazy. All in all, that’s 62,241 in total. I wonder when it will hit 100,000!

Anyway, I hope people will react to this post. I can’t wait to interact with you guys, again! ūüôā

 

Review: The Lottery and Other Stories (Shirley Jackson)

Honestly,I have no idea how to review collections of short stories,but I’ll try to give it a go! (I hope it’s not going to be my worst review ever!)

After reading a good bunch of classics since June 2013,I realized in the midst of this year that I have grossly neglected short stories.I thus went on goodreads and added the best-rated collections to my wish list.After Murakami’s anthology of Birthday Stories and Borges’ Labyrinths,The Lottery and Other Stories is the third collection I’ve delved into.

Let me beforehand say that The Lottery is not the only highlight in this collection.In fact it is not any better than some other superbly written,but lesser-known,gems like The Flower Garden,The Daemon Lover or The Villager.

What I particularly liked with Jackson’s writing is that the ending is recurrently elusive.After writing with engaging vividness for the most part of the story,she is always vague in the conclusive stages,purposely avoiding to give us something definite that would satisfy our reading curiosity.Weirdly this¬†technique sees that we are reading not for the ending,but for the gripping narration.A detached ending besides is also a requisite for many great short-storytellers; if you read Alice Munro’s stories,for example,you’ll agree that the endings have little coherence with the main plot,although highly symbolical.

Moreover I wanted to point out that the literary categorization¬†of Shirley Jackson’s writing is highly misleading.She is erroneously portrayed as someone who reveled in the horror genre,but I think ‘horror’ is too strong a word; the stories were all thematically very dark and gloomy and sometimes disturbing,but none contained morbid allusions and details.To put it in another way,Jackson’s writing is peculiarly delicate yet very dark and clear;¬†she lets you make your own deduction and shiver at the thought of it.Her humor was also very subtle.I am sure that,although fundamentally disturbing,Charles and Of Course¬†will surely put a smile on your face.

Most importantly what really struck me with this collection is that the stories felt very real; there was no magic realism – not that there is anything wrong with it – and nothing highly unlikely.Instead the horrors we witness in the book emanate from terrifying holes in people’s everyday lives: a polite pregnant young lady is almost held hostage by her depressive maid; a newcomer is gradually alienated by the other village dwellers; a woman goes through a delirious mental transformation as a result of her tooth aching.

All in all,I think if you’re fond of short stories or aspire to be a short-storyteller,you should pick this collection.I believe that Jackson’s narrative voice totally suits the requirements of such¬†stories and,in that respect,if you want to read some short stories at their most definite forms – ones filled with details,gripping narratives and elusive endings – then you will find your share in this collection.On the other hand,if you’re much used to reading novels,you might not like this book.The endings might frustrate you and sometimes you might feel there is something lacking in¬†some stories.This is why I opine¬†it is a collection¬†best enjoyed when you’ve read some other short stories before and learnt how to appreciate them.

9 Most Important Living Authors

With the unexpected death of the literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez last week,I deemed good to write¬†a post about¬†those authors who are national treasures in their own rights.Note that I am including authors who are not on the tender side of age,so don’t expect to see the relatively young Hilary Mantel,Kazuo Ishiguro,or Haruki Murakami.I am also listing only 9 of them,as I hope you’ll tell me which author you would have added as the tenth.

1.Harper Lee

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Age: 88
Notable Work: To Kill a Mockingbird (Pulitzer Prize Winner in 1961)

Lee’s name¬†is the first¬†to¬†spring to mind in regard to this post.Although she wrote only To Kill a Mockingbird in her lifetime and lived as a recluse ever since,she has managed to touch the hearts of millions of people from different generations.It is good to know that hundreds of thousands of copies of Lee’s masterpiece¬†are sold annually worldwide,a feat so rare that only a handful of books are still able to accomplish it,namely The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye among a few others.


2.Toni Morrison

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Age: 83
Notable Works: Beloved (Pulitzer Prize Winner in 1988), Song of Solomon,The Bluest Eye

Besides being one of the best authors of her generation,Toni Morrison is an inspiration to women as well as to the Black community.Indeed her life is as remarkable as those of the Black characters she writes about.In 1993 she became the eight woman and the first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature,and in 2001,she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America.The speech she delivered upon receiving the Noble prize says much about how great a person she is.


 

3.J.M Coetzee

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Age: 74
Notable Works: Disgrace (Booker Prize Winner in 1999),Life & Time of Michael K (Booker Prize Winner in 1983),Waiting for the Babarians

One of the few authors to have won the Booker Prize twice,J.M.Coetzee has written so many masterpieces throughout his literary career that he is unsurprisingly one of the most decorated¬†writers still alive today.The icing on the cake came in 2003 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his¬†“well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance”.Like Lee,he is a recluse and has never collected any of his two Booker awards.


 

4.Peter Carey

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Age: 70
Notable Works: Oscar and Lucinda (Booker Prize 1988), True History of the Kelly Gang (Booker Prize 2003), Illywhacker (Age Book of the Year)

The man behind the masterpiece,Oscar&Lucinda,Booker Prize in 1988 and shortlisted for the Booker of Bookers in 2003.Like Coetzee,he too is vastly decorated,albeit to a lesser extent,and many see him as the next Australian Nobel Prize Winner.It is worth mentioning that he has won the Miles Franklin Award for a whopping three times! The peculiarity of Carey is his poly-valence.He is noted for his strong imagination which makes all his works unique; the plot for Oscar&Lucinda remains as original today as it was upon its publication,while for The True History of Ned Kelly,he recreates the life of a famous historical gangster.


 

5.Margaret Atwood

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Age: 74
Notable Works: Handmaid’s Tale (Governor General’s Award in 1989), Blind Assassin (Booker Prize in 2000) , Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood is among the most famed writers of her generation.She is the recipient of numerous awards and almost all her novels have been shortlisted for prestigious literary prizes.The success which her critically-acclaimed works have had with the public has made her an icon for Canada,for literature and for womanhood.


 

6.Alice Munro

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Age: 82
Notable Works: The Beggar Maid, Dear Life, Dance of the Happy Shades (Governor General’s Award in 1968), Who Do You Think You Are? (Governor General’s Award in 1978), The Moons of Jupiter (Governor General’s Award in 1982)

Like Atwood,she is Canadian.Like Atwood,she has received many prestigious awards throughout her illustrious career.She is also the first ever Canadian to win a Nobel Prize in Literature,which she in 2013.She is said to be Canada’s Chekhov,as her short stories are as¬†heavy in meaning as those of the Russian genius.Other great authors also regard her as a monument: Margaret Atwood calls her ”an international literary saint”, A.S.Byatt says Munro is one of the best living authors and that she [ Byatt ] was enraptured upon hearing that¬†Munro has won the Nobel Prize,and Julian Barnes feels that Munro’s short stories¬†‚Äúhave the density and reach of other people‚Äôs novels‚ÄĚ.


 

7.A.S.Byatt

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Age: 77
Notable Works: Possession (Booker Prize in 1990), The Children’s Book (James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2009),Ragnarok

Considered by many to be one of Britain’s greatest authors,Byatt has a unique style of writing which draws heavily upon such Victorian writers as Matisse,Browning and George Eliot.She is also a real character to be reckoned with.An uncompromisingly honest woman,she has lavished praise on Darwin and Munro,but has labelled Harry Potter fans as ‘stupid’.She has also recently expressed her dislike of¬†the American novels which were shortlisted for the Folio Prize.Nonetheless,there is always some sense to be found in Byatt’s words.


 

8.Philip Roth

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Age: 81
Notable Works: American Pastoral (Pulitzer Prize in 1998), Goodby,Columbus (National Book Award in 1960), Sabbath’s Theater (National Book Award in 1995)

Philip Roth is widely regarded as one of America’s¬†most important authors.While his books are regular winners and finalists of prestigious literary competitions,he himself has received¬†various¬†awards recognizing¬†his contribution to literature,such as the Kafka Prize,Man International Booker Prize and the PEN/Nabokov Award.Many people see him as a top contender for the next Nobel Prize in Literature.At the end of 2012,he announced that he would retire from writing novels.


 

9.Wole Soyinka

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Age: 79
Notable Works: The Trials of Brother Jero, A Dance of the Forests, King Baabu

Although¬†often overshadowed by his fellow colleague Chinua Achebe whom,for unknown reasons,people tend to regard¬†as the only important African writer,Soyinka is a master at writing satires which are effective in their humor and condemnation of tyranny.His writing is said to revolve around ”the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the color of the foot that wears it.” In 1986,he¬†became the first African writer to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.A true icon in Africa,Soyinka is known to say it as it is.Over the last few years,he has vehemently and unrelentingly protested against the regimes of Robert Mugabe and Omar Al Bashir.

 

 

 

89 years after Kafka’s death, ‘Bureaucracy’ is still going strong.

Credit to Google Image

It might seem weird to some readers that, in most of his works, Franz Kafka depicted ‘Bureaucracy’ as a monster.True,such depiction correlated with his tendency to write about the bizarre,but Kafka was incredibly intelligent and would never write a book devoid of any message or moral.89 years after his death,I think it makes more sense now why he depicted bureaucracy in such a way.

‘The Trial’,often regarded as an unparalleled piece of work,is perhaps the book that describes best the ruthlessness of bureaucracy.The story starts with Joseph K waking up to see that he has been arrested.He doesn’t know what his crime is nor does he know who is the authority accusing him.To defend himself,he has to write a ‘plea’ boasting the judges and asking for their salvation.Naturally,offending them would mean heading straight-away to prison,or rather to execution.Also Joseph later learns that no one has ever been vindicated by the court,and there are only two ways to avoid being arrested: obtain a temporary acquittal from the lower court which can at any time be contested by the higher levels(in which case the process will start all over again)or curry favour with the lower court to keep the process going at a glacial pace.Either way,Joseph is trapped and has absolutely no means of escape.He can only delay his arrest.

Oddly enough I was reading ‘The Trial’ and filling my CommonApp during the same period,and the comparison between the judges and the admission officers was inevitable.Nobody knows who those officers are,yet they are the ones who hold our lives in their hands.I find it disturbing that some shadowy figures,with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’,can forever change your destiny.But it is not only their anonymity that makes them similar to K’s judges.To be given a ‘Yes’,we have to please them;they demand extra-curricular activities which reflect the student’s leadership skills,but which the student would never have engaged in if he wasn’t applying to college.Why does one have to become somebody else in order to be accepted? Telling us that we just have to be ourselves to be accepted…is just like telling K that he only has to be honest to get acquitted;both are grotesquely false.

Even to be considered for a seat in a university,the student has to face some hurdles.For instance he has to invite his teachers and principal to fill in some forms and to write a recommendation letter,all of which should be done on-line.Did the officers take into account that some teachers might not be IT literate? Yes.This is why the student can get the recommender to do all the procedures offline and send the paperworks to the colleges involved,if,of course, he is willing to disregard: the cost incurred and the time it takes for the file to reach its destination(s).(well,if it hasn’t already been lost in transit).

Surely Kafka must have already turned in his grave at the sight of the power bureaucracy has gained during the 89 years which followed his death,he who was so outraged at bureaucracy’s oppressive nature when he was still a young man.