Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What kind of reader are you? | A rant

The books you read say a lot about you. How you read a book however, speaks volumes about your reading style.

Are you a book addict? Tearing at a novel's pages every free moment you get?

Are you a reading addict? Scanning the contents at the back of cereal boxes during breakfast or under packets of tissue paper in the loo?

Are you a fidgety reader? Fluttering through pages never really getting in or out of a story with ease?
Are you adventurous with your picks? Scanning lists and lists and lists related to your lists to find your next read?

I’d like to think of myself as “all of the above” though of late I have been leaning towards the fidgety side of things. This isn't because my style of reading has changed. It's because my lifestyle has.
I guess that's another category of “reader”, isn't it? The kind of person who loves to read but is hindered by distractions like beeping phones, chattering at coffee shops or motion sickness...

The only thing to do in such cases is not to give it. To chug along. Keep trying. Reading. Neil Gaiman can't keep you in his grip? Move on to chicklit. Zadie Smith just going on and on and on? And on. Move on to a thriller. Fantasy just too fantastical in the midst of the mundane? Hello YA!
I guess I'm still in the throes of 'all of the above' which can be summed up in one word, really - indecisive.

But there's no room for self-doubt even if I have only finished two out of the last 10 books I started.
What is wrong with me? Nothing, really. Just life. A certain lifestyle. Distractions and... stuff.
There was a time I wrote about everything I read. EVERYTHING. But lately I haven't been reading enough, or intensely enough to churn out a decent enough review-rant-rave.

So this is where I will insert your voice, dear reader, whispering: "Don't beat yourself up about it." "Everyone goes through these phases." "Why don't you just pause? Take it slow for a while?"

Pause? Take it slow? I can't pause. I'm nothing if not a reader. I love words and the worlds they wield. But you're right. Maybe I should take it slow. And give myself some room to breathe. Think. Formulate my thoughts.

To be honest, I didn't always finish all the books I wrote about in the past. For good reason too. Reasons I often used as anchors for my posts.

So what's changed between then and now? Nothing what-so-ever! Well, maybe the new city, new job, two dogs and unfamiliar domestic setting are still more or less brand-spanking-new. But yes, other than that, nothing much.

I'm still an ardent reader. I still love discovering cool new titles across genres.

In fact, now that I've got this rant out of the way, I'm actually buzzing with new things to write about. Like Gone Girl, which I read and, well, really really need to discuss with someone before I go absolutely insane! Oh, and GoodReads has become my go-to site to find seriously awesome reads I wouldn't have ever found otherwise. That deserves a post, don’t you think so? I also live in a city which has a ridiculously large number of readers! The largest in India, if sales figures are to be believed. The number of quaint little bookstores are staggering in how they're designed to keep you trapped behind beautiful stacks of books -- old, new, undiscovered, forgotten -- until closing time.

It’s time to wake up and bring this blog back to life. Now, I know we’ve said this once before and went back to the grind, our post drafts getting rusty, and our bookshelf lying forgotten.

This is where I promise you new and exciting posts a week. Maybe more if we can wing it! But it’s time to stop making promises and actually putting those posts about wonderfully exciting books into action so you can see for yourself.

PS: Does anyone else think we need to get a design makeover? Reshma and I have been discussing this (agreeing mostly) for months now but haven't really come to a conclusion as to whether we want a new look. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Update at 4.29pm: Ok, we went ahead and changed it anyway. It's a lot simpler than our previous layout but it has way more features and opportunities to interact. Also, subscribe?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five Poems, Five Poets, Five days | Walt Whitman

'I sing the body electric;

That says everything doesn't it. I don't think an opening line gets better than that for me and it's one of my favourites. It is the opening line of the eponymous poem 'I sing the body electric'.  It isn't the most famous of Walt Whitman poems- many critics found it obvious and repetitive. That honour would go to 'O Captain! My Captain!', which has garnered interest of late because of the untimely and sad demise of Robin William's, that funny funny man, who broke our collective hearts a couple of weeks ago.

'I sing the body electric' is from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass that was first published in 1855. It grew from a small collection of 12 poems to almost 400 by the time it got to the 'death bed edition'. My own edition (see picture) is a lovely 1968 edition illustrated by Mary Jane Gorton, a replication of an edition in between, I don't know which. It begins with Leaves of Grass, an poem that is a prologue of sort to the next one, I sing the body electric, which is essentially a magnificent ode or rather a love letter, an erotic love letter, to the human body.

The poem is made up of 13 stanzas of varying lengths and the stanzas are made up of structured prose if you will. The poem does have a rhythm of sorts and has to be read aloud. Imagine a chant or a drum rhythm that begins slowly, Dum Dum Dum and then movies into steady beat that finally crescendoes into an orchestra of trumpets and flares.

The first section makes the primal connection between body and soul, and then catalogues its various parts -

The expression of the face balks account;
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face;
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists;
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees—dress does not hide him;
The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton and flannel;
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.
He then talks about the democratisation of the body regardless of who we are in society. He talks about the swimmer in the swimming batch, the rower, the horseman, labourers, wrestlers, all in the rhythm of free flowing prose structured into verse. He then talks about the virility of man, the lusciousness of body that is overtly erotic. It's no surprise that this was an extremely controversial piece of work at the time.

You would wish long and long to be with him—you would wish to sit by him in the boat, that you and he might touch each other.
I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment—what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight—I swim in it, as in a sea.
There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well;
All things please the soul—but these please the soul well.

How about the woman? Well we were kept in our place and it reflects in the poem.  Our bodies are not considered as fierce and we are given more gentle treatment, as would have been the zeitgeist of the time. We are called a 'divine nimbus' which irritated me to no end. What on earth does nimbus mean you ask? I looked it up. It means luminous cloud or even worse, saint. But then of course we are also about desire -

Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice;
Bridegroom night of love, working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn;
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.
This is the nucleus—after the child is born of woman, the man is born of woman;
This is the bath of birth—this is the merge of small and large, and the outlet again.
 There is no talk about contractions or how my pelvis handles the assault that is the 'birthing' process probably because he never saw what went on at the time. He only saw the perfection. While the male is 'action and power', the woman is 'in her place, and moves with perfect balance;'

That chaffed at my insides but let's move on. We then come to the slave auction where he says he will 'help' the auctioneer while simultaneously deriding the process which he believes is a worship of the physical even as there is so much more to the body. There is the 'all baffling brain' :

In this head the all-baffling brain;
In it and below it, the makings of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red, black, or white—they are so cunning in tendon and nerve;
They shall be stript, that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant back-bone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.
My favourite part, and the reason I chose this poem, is the final stanza. Where he, if I may say, 'rips into it'. If he was a rapper, this would be his crescendo. Tu Pac would have loved this part where he pummels through every organ, every crevice, our mouth, our nose, the teats, the nipples,  the weeping the hips, the wrist. He ticks it all off until he gets to the knees and then says -

The thin red jellies within you, or within me—the bones, and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul,
O I say now these are the Soul!

The human body is divine and this poem always makes me feel wonderful be alive, to appreciate what I am and to never take my health for granted. So now I am off to work out. The poem can be read in it's entirety here.

For more information on Walt Whitman- go here 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Love to love, love to hate | 20 books that have changed me

The first time I was nominated to list 10 books that changed my life, I ignored it. I mean, how am I supposed to pick just 10 books? Each and every book I’ve ever read or left unread has changed me in some way or another.

Good books leave you with a feeling of satisfaction. Even if they dodn’t go the way you would have liked. They make you happy. You find yourself smiling when you think back to their prose years later. You often find yourself recommending them.

Bad books leave you angry. Irritated. Sometimes, you read them until the end just to give yourself the satisfaction of knowing yes, that was undoubtedly one of the worst books of all time. You find yourself scowling when you look back on them years later. You often find yourself bitching about them and often, recommending people read them so they can share your pain.

Unfortunately, there’s a thin line between love and hate, bad and good. It is all subjective, after all. What you devour may read like nails on a chalkboard for another. What you detest may be a friend’s bible!

That is why I believe that books both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ have the tendency to change you. Raving about the ones you love gives them a wider audience. It lends them the affirmation you believe they rightfully deserve. Bitching about the ones you dislike also has its advantages. Some might listen to you and get the reason they need not to risk it. But others who have read and loved them offer up some insightful arguments.

All books you've read/attempted to read serve a purpose. They may tell you things about the author. But more importantly, they teach you things about yourself. They offer you lessons on life you may not otherwise see.

Maybe the prose was too heavy or pretentious. That teaches you the importance of making points and telling stories that are simple, clear and to the point.

The plot probably had promise when it started but found itself in the same old rut that kills originality. That teaches you about ideas in life that look promising at first but materialise very differently because you are either too lazy to see them through or couldn’t, for whatever reason, follow your original vision.

Either way, books you like and dislike have the tendency to change you. But you can’t blame people for wanting to focus on the good over the bad. Let’s also not dismiss the idea of the pressure involved in revealing the texts that had an impact on you. Will I sound erudite enough? What if I sound too pretentious?

On my fourth nomination, I had a go at it on Facebook and this is the response I received.

You know you have good friends when they keep you honest. Especially if they're the ones who know each and every reading adventure you've ever had and how it influenced you even if you don't. Also, as the only person (I know of) to have ever designed and hosted a Harry Potter pub quiz in Mumbai, I think my friends may be right on that part.

So here’s the final list of books I love that changed me. Followed by, in the interest of balance, titles I disliked for various reasons, but not enough to dismiss because they've added value to my life and love of literature in some way or another.

Books I Love to Love
1. Harry Potter by JK Rowling (Are you happy now, Reshma?)
2. 1984 by George Orwell
4. Mystery Man by Colin Bateman
5. The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa
6. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
7. Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw
8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
9. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
10. French Women Don’t get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

Books I Love to Hate
1. 50 Shades of Gray by EL James
2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
3. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
4. Bared to You by Sylvia Day
5. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
6. The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
7. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
8. Weight Loss by Upamanyu Chatterjee
9. The Alchemy of Desire by Tarun Tajpal
10. Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence – this is still part of my master-list of books that changed me because no matter how disturbed I find myself while reading it, I will from time-to-time go back to it for old times’ sake. (A rant on this book + my visit to the author’s house in Nottingham, COMING SOON).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poetry | Five Poems, five poets, five days

Caterpillar Cafe is not a review site primarily because, being writers, we can't bear to give bad reviews especially when we know how hard it is to write anything at all. So we believe that 'Good writing lies in the eye of the reader.' So here at the cafe' we tell you what we love and why we think you will love it too. 

And one of us happens to love poetry. Yes, remember english classes- ' Tiger Tiger burning bright' ?Poetry is a lot more than memorising poems. It's perfect reading before bed as the rhythm of the lines act like a lullaby lulling you to sleep. This week I run through some of my favourite poems. 

I have to start with Donne. Donne was my introduction to how poetry can be completely absurd and yet make sense all at the same time. Donne manages to turn anything into a metaphor for love. A compass, death and now a flea. I think this is perhaps the cleverest poem written about a flea and perhaps the most erotic. Do you know another poem that combines fleas and sex. A perennial favourite, here is The Flea.

How to read? I am terrible at recognising iambic pentameters and tetrameters but here goes. This poem alternates metrically between lines in iambic tetrameter (4 iambs or syllables ) and lines in iambic pentameter (5 iambs). So it's 454545455. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is regular, in couplets, with the final line rhyming with the final couplet: AABBCCDDD.This makes the last three lines in the stanza read strange as you always think the last line remains hanging. Tell me if you think it reads differently. 

                                                 The Flea

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,   
How little that which thou deniest me is;   
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;   
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
    And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.   
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;   
Though parents grudge, and you, w'are met,   
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that, self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?   
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?   
Yet thou triumph’st, and say'st that thou   
Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;
    ’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:
    Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,

    Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

An overdue update & a comeback plan!

We’ve been leaving long gaps between our reviews, I know. But that isn’t because we aren’t reading. Because, boy are we reading a whole lot!

I’ve just spent the last few months exploring independently published erotica and up-and-coming fantasy/horror/ thriller titles. I’m also currently chugging through Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series because I want to have all the details fresh in my mind for the October release of the final Heroes of Olympus novel.

Reshma has been fluttering through book launches, book shops and densely populated bookshelves at book publishers’ offices, not to mention off-beat books that she has been discovering on her travels. But I’ll let her fill you in on this part because she tells it better than I.

In short: We owe you. Big time! And we’d like to thank all our readers who’ve been waiting patiently to discover brilliant titles far off the bestseller shelves.

We’re quite excited to announce that we’re expanding our repertoire to include aspects of reading that go beyond the written word nestled inside paperbacks and e-readers. I’m talking about adventures in the aisles of bookstores, people whose bookshelves we admire and lists and lists of recommended reads!

So keep an eye on our little blog as we go back to some old habits – two posts a week *fingers crossed* – and some new ones that we hope you will absolutely love.

Have a great weekend!


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