Saturday, December 31, 2011

[2011 in Books] By Fatma Makki

2011 has been quite a year. To be completely honest, I can't tell you how glad I am that we're at the tail end of it right now. I've experienced the extremes of every emotion, and that can wear a girl out! But ever the optimist (ha!), I'm going to choose to highlight the bright side, and that it, without a doubt, that I have read some really phenomenal books this year. If you're reading this post, you're definitely a bibliophile, and may have been on Twitter and recently seen a hashtag trending for: a book I have read this year. Of course this made me and several other book-loving Tweeps incredibly happy! @_MaryamB and @Noor17 had the great idea of getting us all to write a list of our year in books. So, without further ado, here is my manifestation of the past 364 days in books:

It was a year of Questioning Everything:

If ever there was a year dedicated to questioning the status quo, I believe 2011 is definitely it. I don't think it's surprising that as a young Arab female, this thought would be on the forefront of my mind. I remember the day: February 11 2011. I remember the moment. 4:00 pm GMT. I was in London, in the middle of the City (London's financial hub), and I had just completed my Wills & Administration of Estates exams. I was incredibly sleep deprived because my friend and I had pulled an all-nighter studying for this exam. We had heard of rumblings from the Middle East, but us being in the middle of an incredibly stressful exam period, we were living in our special corner of hell, very selfishly ignoring everyone and everything else. It was 4:00 pm, we were being herded out of our classrooms into the foyer, and I was on my tiptoes looking for my friends in the middle of the seething mass of revelling students. Little did I know that a continent away, thousands of miles away, was a crowd whose numbers multiplied ours by thousands, and for the intensity of their emotion we might have been on different planets. I found my friend at the other end of the room and although her expression seemed too happy to be pleased about a simple exam, I just chalked it up to the lack of sleep. But it wasn't lack of sleep: we met in the middle of that hall, and as I was screaming out 'It went great, hamdillah!', she yelled 'Husni Mubarak stepped down!'. The rest of the day was a daze. We wandered back to Moorgate Station, stopping at the windows of some fancy law firms or banks or other money meccas that make up the City, and would press our faces against the windows, watching the news on the LCD screens that would inevitably be propped up somewhere in the lobby, which were all switched on to BBC News or Sky News. We couldn't hear what they were saying, but we didn't really need to. The expressions on the faces of the people in the crowd said it all. My friend and I were now talking a mile a minute, and I realized that most of what I was saying came out as a question. What does this mean? What's going to happen? What should we do? What CAN we do?

As the weeks passed on, we watched several autocracies, like big lumbering behemoths, toppling down and disappearing into the desert. As exciting and wonderful as it all was, I would always end the day questioning everything. It's funny that I was in the City when my story begins, because the first book that's going to top my list is called
The City & The City by China Mieville. It's what I was reading during those whirlwind days in February. The story is a weird and wonderful fantasy mystery novel, set in a fictional city called Beszel, which co-exists very tentatively with its 'twin city' called Ul Qom. The main character is a detective called Borlu, and the book starts, as any self-respecting mystery would, with a murder. This book is so much more than a mystery though. I would say that the book is a layering of genres, and that mystery is the outer layer, the one that draws you in. As you read on, you get sucked into the world of Beszel, it's unusual politics, the weird lives they are forced to live because of the politics of the day, and the astounding truths that come out in the end that make Borlu: question everything. It's a genre I'm not used to reading, but Mieville is the master of his plot and although the story could easily have been extremely confusing, I was riveted to my couch till the very satisfying end.

The second book under this heading would have to be The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy. This one leads to a much deeper (I believe) series of questions, and despite its brevity (I read it in less than a day), is very unsettling - in a good way - and extremely thought provoking. McCarthy knows that with words, less is usually more. There's a saying I have posted up in front of my desk at the office, a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson, "The only art is to omit". By that logic, McCarthy is a true artist. The book is in fact 'in dramatic form', i.e. a play, and there are only two characters who don't have names, simply referred to as Black and White (because, duh, one is black and one is white). I really don't want to ruin it for the reader, but it starts off with them sitting down in a kitchen, and the whole play takes place in that sparse little room, but the conversation they have is about as deep and meaningful as you can get without breaking out your copies of Aristotle's Metaphysica. The main themes in this book center around death, dying, religion and the afterlife. Don't be fooled by it's 120 or so pages... this book is as heavy as they get and will leave you: questioning everything.

My third book is by a writer I would never dream of completing any book list without. It's called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. I've reviewed her on this blog before, so I'm not going to say too much more about it .Suffice it to say I've written fanmail to the wonderfully smart and amazing Scarlett Thomas, because yeah I'm lame like that and no I don't care who knows it. This book is phenomenal just like her others, and I think the book yells out at every page for you to QUESTION EVERYTHING.

It was a year of Being Connected in a Fragmented World

Anyone with a pulse will know that social networking is the talk of the town these days. You can't walk into a bookstore, open a magazine, look at the news, or even go to the cinema (seen The Social Network yet?) without those two words popping up. And truly it's been a marvel. I won't say that it's started revolution, because revolutions were and always will be in the hands of the people no matter where we are or when or how far technology advances. But without a doubt it has provided a huge catalyst for revolutions. The amount of information that's out there it boggles the mind. I joined Twitter this year, and I'm so glad I did. I'm connected to people all around the world. This year the world population reached 7 billion, and that's a pretty huge thing to think about. Usually that depresses me because my egotistical self feels so small and worthless and whatthehellamIaloneinthisworldwith7billionsoulsandthatsnotevencountingtheanimalsandbugs
didyouknowthere'smorechickensintheworldthenpeopleholycrap! But Twitter's great, and so is Facebook and all those other awesome concepts that are out there. In keeping with the theme of books, I've discovered a number of book-related sites which have revolutionized the way I read and choose books: there's BookMooch, LibraryThing, BookRiot, etc. And OF COURSE Omani Book Mania! Most of these, I found through Twitter. And so if I may get all mushy for a moment, I'd like to say that it's heartwarming to know that somewhere in that vast blue and green expanse, you will always find someone, somewhere who will get what you're saying. If you say it on Twitter, you'll be aware of that someone because they'll RT or favorite your comment!

And so this leads to my fourth book which is very appropriate for this year and theme:
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. This guy has a serious knack for bringing completely disparate stories and then linking them together in the most natural way. He did it with Cloud Atlas, which is his more popular book, I believe. But I liked Ghostwritten more. They story is split into 9 parts, 9 different places in the world, and somehow all connected in the most ingenious ways. They're never obvious or glaring, just subtle little sentences, slipped into the paragraphs as smoothly as a bribe in a crooked cop's hand. The main characters of each little bit of story is not even necessarily someone you would like: a terrorist, a mistress, a crooked banker, or even an unearthly spirit. Nevertheless, somehow you understand them, you can occupy their life the way the noncorpus occupies other people's bodies. Oh wait, you don't know what a noncorpus is right? You'll have to read the book to find out. Nya nya! Throughout the stories, I never ceased to be amazed at how much these people lived in their own little bubbles, never truly aware of the extent of their reach, and how closely connected they were with the lives of people they would never meet, and even how those lives will affect
theirs. We truly are connected in this fragmented world.

It was a year of Sorrow, and Learning how to Say Goodbye

This year, after 5 years of living in Southampton, England, I had to up and leave behind a whole life I had built for myself. I knew this day would come, I knew it was inevitable. Nevertheless, it was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do in my life. Saying goodbye to the unbelievably amazing people I've met throughout those years, to the little apartment I've turned from a shell into a real home for 3 of those years, and all of my favorite local haunts in Southampton, and in the UK in general. I know that saying goodbye is an inescapable part of everybody's life, but I believe it's something that I will never master, and it will always carry that malicious little sting with it. As for sorrow, I believe
that goes hand in hand with saying goodbye, and I think the world has experienced it's fair share of sorrow this year. As I mentioned in the last heading, we are connected in this fragmented world, and nothing connects us quite like sorrow. So although I experienced my own solitary sadness, I was also connected to the sorrow of the people who have lost loved ones all over the world, whether over natural disasters like in Japan or Pakistan, or whether it was because of the hubris of men, like in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and always Palestine.

In the midst of the sorrow, the tears, the fits of rage and the passionate entreaties, I found the time to read the fifth book on my list, a wonderful, wonderful book which is very well respected but I still don't think it has the recognition it deserves. That would be Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It's narrated by Janie Crawford (a black woman living in the deep South in the states in those difficult years after abolition but before the civil rights movement), as she recounts the story of her life to a neighbor. The language used in the book lends itself to the story she tells, and she speaks in that simple-yet-profound, soulful way that seems to come naturally African American writers of that period (sometime in the '30s I think). By the end of this book, I was moved to tears, by the way Janie expressed her sorrow, but also the way she pushed through it. I really loved this book.

As for my sixth book, I'm going to put it under this heading, although at first glance it may not seem like the right place, but bear with me! This is The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa. I found out later that Vargas Llosa is a Nobel laureate, which usually brings to mind dense and over-literary books. But this book is so easy to read, and one of the most enjoyable I've ever read in my life. The story's protagonist is Ricardo, and starts off with his 15 year old self, in a small town called Miraflores in Peru. That summer, he meets and falls into a love that will define the rest of his life.

As I hate spoilers, I will try not to say anymore, but at the end of the book, I sat thinking about what I just read. Ricardo spent his whole life anguishing over an elusive girl (the Bad Girl, as she is known throughout most of the book). As I read the book, his sorrow over her was always apparent. But only after I finished did I understand (in my own interpretation at least) that this is in fact a book that talks about a man who is learning how to say goodbye, and this is a journey of a lifetime. W
hat a book.

My seventh book has sorrow pouring out of every page, but in way that is bittersweet and tender, and with a style that is unique to this writer. I'm talking of course about Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I feel as though this is his best so far, but I plan on reading every single one of his books and am open to being proven wrong. The story is about a man in his 30's who hears the song Norwegian Wood by The Beatles, and this sends him on a trip down memory lane, about the women who influenced his life during his student days, Naoko, Reiko and Midori. Even the way the story begins, with that churning pain that only nostalgia can bring, is a perfect precursor to a story that talks about loving and losing, and everything in between.

It was a year of Laughter

It's not all gloom and doom. I've always loved laughter. I'm a huge fan of comedy in all its forms. I love stand up comedians, and I love watching documentaries about stand up comedians (plug: you should watch a documentary called I Am Comic! Hilarious). I believe every cliche about laughter: that it's the best medicine, that it gives you a longer life, etc. But this year I've needed it more than ever. I needed to know first of all that I don't have to take myself so seriously all the time, and second of all I don't have to take ANYONE else so seriously all the time either! A little bit of mockery and mirth never hurt anyone!

My eighth book taught me that, which is Summer Moonshine by PG Wodehouse. It centers around Sir Buckstone Abbott, who is a member of the declining aristocracy of England. His country manor is costing him a fortune to run, so he decides to take in guests in order to make a bit of money and ward off total ruin. That summer, the guests arrive, and as is perfectly natural with all of Wodehouse's brilliant books, hilarity ensues. This book has made a Wodehouse lover out of me, and I cannot wait to get my hands on some more of his wonderful books, which I know I'll enjoy just as much. The characters are usually self-important, speaking in the most pompous English imaginable, and Wodehouse has a genius way of creating the most ludicrous imagery imaginable, and scenes that are just unforgettable.

In keeping with the theme of this heading, as well as that of declining aristocracy, I bring you the ninth book on my list, Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. Well, what can I say about this book? It's never-ending. Literally. Gogol died before he could finish it, so practically ends mid-sentence and also the last ten or so pages are barely intelligible because they skip through a lot of the story because the manuscript was damaged before it got to the publishers all those centuries ago. I can't tell you how frustrated I was! But the book is still worth a read. Here, the main character, Chichikov, makes his first entrance into a normal sized town somewhere in Russia, and we soon find out that his aim is to buy up all the 'dead souls' that the landowners have (landowners used to 'own' the peasants who worked on that land as well, who were known as serfs, colloquially referred to as souls, and were traded and treated as being as marketable as any other property). We, the readers, learn about him at the same time as those villagers do, and it's a great method used by Gogol of keeping this very intriguing character interesting to us. He is referred as 'the hero' throughout the novel, perhaps sarcastically, but there is no doubt that the point of the entire novel is to cast a scathing and satiric glance over the cream of Russian society at that time, and the system of serfdom that existed during Gogol's lifetime. I read a lot of this book in coffee shops, which was a bad idea, because I also spent a lot of time spurting coffee out of my nose.

It was a year of Learning what Home Is

As I've mentioned, I've left my 5-year home, and returned to Muscat, which although is not the city I was born in, it is where my roots are, and am learning every day how to call it home. This last year especially has been a great experience in that sense. I thought a lot about what we mean when we say we 'come from' somewhere. Where do I come from, then? I've lived in Paris, Muscat, Southampton, Muscat again. In about a year and a half I'll hopefully be moving to London for a bit. And after that, who knows? I think society's changed so irrevocably that who we are and where we come from are two things that are constantly changing and evolving, sometimes related, sometimes not.

The first book I read when I moved back to Oman was my tenth book, when I was spending most of my time in bed, or just sullenly gliding around my house, like the most emo ghost on the planet. That is The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. Quoyle is the unlikely hero of this story, described as a big, ugly clumsy oaf of a character, with no particularly redeeming qualities in him. He falls madly in love with Petal, probably the most evil human being that ever exists (in his world) and yet he loves her unconditionally, marries her and they have two kids. After years of marriage and her unbearable cruelty to him, she kidnaps the two girls and tries to sell them to sex traffickers. Fortunately she dies in a car accident and the girls return to him, and with the life insurance money and help from his aunt, Agnis (rough around the edges but kind-hearted), he decides to start a new life for them, taking them from their dumpy little place in Mockingburg, New York to Quoyle's Point, a desolate little corner in Newfoundland, Canada; the home of his ancestors and his namesake. This story is full of wonderful and intricately described characters. I love the hero's courage and his absolute determination to find a better life for his little girls and his family. The home he and Agniss work hard to rebuild is their ancestral home, a creaking lonely beast without a neighbor for miles. The story is full of metaphors about home and where you come from and speaks volumes during the silent moments when I could almost feel the cold winds of Newfoundland blowing through my window, even all the way in hot, hot Muscat during the summertime.

It was a year of Finding the Fascinating in the Mundane, and Embracing the Paradox.

"But Fatamo," you say, "how can you find something mundane to be fascinating? By its very nature, a mundane thing is mundane! It can never be fascinating? Could you find a fork fascinating? What about a salt and pepper shaker on your kitchen table? A bathroom? HA! Fatamo you talk nonsense!" And I would say that you were right; that there is nothing very interesting or particularly fascinating about a salt and pepper shaker, or a fork, or a bathroom... but there is something about those things, and that is where the paradox lies.

No one can teach you appreciation of such things with as much style as the author of my final, eleventh book. I said in the beginning I learned to question everything, and I got some fascinating answers in At Home by Bill Bryson. Why does a fork have four tines? Why do we even have a salt and pepper shaker so confidently sitting there on our kitchen tables? Why do we have bathrooms? Kitchens? Do you think these questions are silly? Bill Bryson will show you why they're not. All I can say is I'll never look at anything the same way again, because I know that behind the most ridiculously dull looking thing, there is the most exciting history ever. His book is the ultimate in confronting your assumptions: it makes you find the fascinating in the mundane. Now I can see this, and a bed is not just a bed to me anymore. I've learned to embrace that paradox and run with it. I'm usually more into fiction than non-fiction, but if I could recommend one book this whole year, this would be it without a doubt.

As I wrote up this list, one word keeps popping up. The memories they bring up are so different. This year I remember, dancing with joy, weeping my heart out, suffering from sleep deprivation, freezing cold in London, sweating bullets in Muscat, soaking up the sun in Spain during the summer with my friends, laughing with my family, fighting with my family, loving, leaving, asking, answering, giving, taking, winning, losing, trying, failing, trying again, succeeding, hugging, fighting, warring, peacing, being silly (like the two non-verbs I just said). But one word keeps rearing its inconspicuous little head all over the place: learning. That's what this year has been for me, and that's what these books have been for me: a learning experience. You might have gathered from my first paragraph that I hated this year. But in the spirit of embracing the paradox, I've got to say, I've loved every second of this year.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

نسيان com | أحلام مستغانمي

نسيان com | أحلام مستغانمي 
By: عايدة الحراصي

نسيان com هذا الكتاب الذي يحوي بين دفتيه 234 صفحة هو نبع من النصائح و الكلمات الدفاقة التي تهمسها أحلام مستغانمي في أُذن كل فتاة خاضت تجربة الحب وتلوعت بهجر الحبيب لها. الكتاب بمثابة دليل نسيان لكل الذكريات الأليمة.. واللحظات العصيبة.. هي محاولة من الكاتبة لتأخذ بيد كل من تعذبت بسبب الحب!
رأيي بالكتاب:
نسيان com . ليس كأي كتاب آخر قرأته! لطالما وددت أن أقرأ بعضا مما تخطه أحلام مستغانمي . لم أتوقع أن يكون أسلوبها بهذا الرقي و لم يخطر ببالي ان تأسرني حروفها!
أحببت نسيان بكل ما فيه .رُقيّ الحرف في نسيان له معنى..
راق لي كثيرا نبض الحروف . وشغلني التفكر بما وراء الكلمات..
رائع لكل من أرادت أن تنسى. أحلام حصرت كتابها في نسيان كل حبيب خائن. لكن بريق كلماتها أضاء حولي طريقا لأنسى أشياء أكثر من ما أرادت مستغانمي! نصائح ذهبية لتَنْسى, وتَنْسى كل شيء..
سأنسى.. فلا نعمة تعدل النسيان
من الكتب التي راقت لي كثيرا
لكوني لم أخض تجربة حب . فسأعتبر ما قرأت نصائح من باب معرفة الشر ليُتقى!

تقييمي للكتاب : 8.5/10
تزكيتي للكتاب: الكتاب مناسب لكل من خاضت تجربة حب وترغب بالنسيان . للنساء فقط فوق سن ال19 برأيي!

من بين دفتي الكتاب انتقيت هذه الكلمات :

وحده الوفاء يمتلك عدَّادا دقيقا للوقت . إنه النخاع الشوكي للذاكرة.

نحن نحكم على وفاء من نحب بحسب منسوب وفائنا!

ما ينتظرك اجمل مما يحيط بك. اشتري أحذيه لأحلامك وستصبح كل الطرقات إلى الفرح سالكه.

صبرت حتى يعلم الصبر اني,,,,, صبرت على شيء أمرُّ من الصبر

بالصلاة وحدها نستطيع أن نحقق بين الجهد و العقل و الروح اتحادا يكسب العود البشري الواهي قوة لا تتزعزع.

كلما أقبلتَ إلى الله خاشعة صَغُر كل شيء حولك وفي قلبك. فكل تكبيره بين يدي الله تعيد ما عداه إلى حجمه الأصغر.

لقد حررني الله فليس لأحد أن يأسرني.

يُعرف موت القلب بترك الطاعة , وإدمان الذنوب ,وعدم المبالاة بسوء الذكر , و الامن من مكر الله.

الذاكرة أحسن خادم للعقل, و النسيان أحسن خادم للقلب!

ينبغي للإنسان الذي يريد أن يعيش  أن يقول نصف الحقيقة و يخفي نصف الشعور .

من غضب منك ثلاث مرات ولم يقل فيك شرا اختره صاحبا

لا تقدم أبدا شروحا لأحد. أصدقاؤك الحقيقيون ليسوا في حاجة إليها!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For One More Day | Mitch Albom

For One More Day ~ Mitch Albom

Reviewed by: Kitten
Blog: Abstracted ~

What would you give to spend one more day with a loved one?

Chick's life turned upside down when his mother passed away. He wasn't invited to his own daughter's wedding as he was a 'public embarrassment' thanks to his drinking problems. He wanted to end his misery and that's why he decided to end his life. He drove endlessly to his old town and visited the baseball field of his childhood.. Then drove and drove till he hit a truck.. That's where the journey begins.

He sees his mother, she walks him to their house. There, he gets to feel what he took for granted when his mom was alive, the warmth of her touch, the way she sees him differently, how she can make him feel important.. Even though he kept reminding himself that this can't be happening, he longed for one more day with his mother.

Personal Opinion: For One More Day is a heart-warming story that will keep you hooked from the first few pages. I read it overnight; the language is simple, and I felt like Mitch Albom wrote these words straight from his heart. It will make you think of the things you've taken for granted, of the times you spent away from your loved ones, of how you should take a moment to appreciate what you have and work at being a better person.

My rating: 8.5/10

I recommend this to whoever's looking for a short read, one that will keep him entertained throughout. You'll definitely love it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird Discussion: chapters 20-26

Calpurnia waited by the railing to get the Judge’sattention, when she did she delivered an envelope to Atticus. The envelope hada note inside from Atticus’s sister stating that his kids were missing, haven’tbeen home since noon. As he told the Judge about the note, Mr. Underwood spokesaying that the kids were up in the colored balcony and they have been theresince 1 P.M.
Atticus looked up and called for them to get down. At theend of the staircase they met both Atticus and Calpurnia, Atticus sent themhome with Calpurnia to have supper and allowed them to get back to hear theverdict.
Jem, Scout and Dill walked back home with Calpurnia whoscolded them all the way home. Aunt Alexandra was shocked once she heard wherethe have been, and even more shocked upon learning that Atticus gave thempermission to go back and hear the verdict. They all ate silently, and racedback to the courthouse. They waited with Reverend Sykes, who saved their seats,for jury to come with the verdict. Jem and the Reverend discussed the case withJem insisting “we’ve won it.” After that they all remained silent. The silencemade Scout and Dill sleepy; Scout still had enough energy to fight it, whileDill fell asleep on Jem’s shoulder.
The jury is finally back with a verdict; guilty.

As they left the courthouse and met Atticus outside, Jem wascrying and was incapable of saying anything more than “It ain’t right,Atticus.” He couldn’t believe that the jury would convict Tom when it wasobvious that he didn’t rape Mayella. As soon as they got home they all went tobed. On the next morning everyone was surprised when they saw the amount offood in the kitchen from the black community. Calpurnia explained to Atticusthat they were gifts appreciating what he did to Tom Robinson, in spite of theverdict. Atticus’s eyes welled up with tears as Calpurnia talked, he told herto thank them all and not to do it again, times were hard. Atticus then excusedhimself and left the house.

Soon after that Dill came over, had breakfast with Jem andScout then they all stepped on the front porch. Miss Maudie called for them tocome over; she had some cake for them. She talked to them and pointed to a fewthey never thought about before. Like how it was no coincidence that JudgeTaylor have appointed Atticus to defend Tom, and how many people were trying tohelp Tom. The case may have been lost, but only Atticus could have kept a juryout so long to decide. To her that was a baby step towards equality.

As they were leaving Miss Maudie, Mr. Avery, Miss Rachel andMiss Stephanie Crawford waved at them. To be polite Jem, Scout and Dill walkedover to them. Miss Rachel took Dill by the shoulder instructing him to goinside at once, saying danger is coming. Miss Stephanie started to tell themwhat happened just as Aunt Alexandra was calling for them, Mr. Bob Ewell hadstopped Atticus at the post office corner, and spat in his face, and told himthat he would get him if it took the rest of his life.

Atticus passes it as an empty threat, and tries to convinceJem and Scout that. He also assured them that the case was not over; there isstill the appeal, which Atticus thought they had a good chance in winning.
Discussing the case brings Jem and Atticus into a long legaldiscussion with Jem suggesting solutions so that Tom can be a free man again. WhateverJem suggests, Atticus explains why it would not be applicable.

Later on Jem and Scout discuss the people in Macomb County,their ways and lives. Doing so makes Jem understand Boo Radley more, he staysinside all day because he wants to not because he has to.

Aunt Alexandra introduced Scout to the formal tea time thatshe hosts in an effort to teach Scout on how to be a lady. As Scout observesthe ladies, she is lost in the world of pretty and delicate ladies. At last,she decides that she fits better in her father’s world.

Suddenly Atticus interrupts the ladies, asking for AuntAlexandra to step into the kitchen for a moment with him. Scout knew somethingwas wrong, since Atticus never comes home early whenever his sister is havingsome ladies over. She follows her aunt into the kitchen and learns from Atticusthat Tom Robinson is dead. He tried to escape from the prison and was shot bythe guards. Atticus asks Calpurnia to accompany him and help him deliver thenews to Tom’s wife, Helena. Calpurnia agrees and they both leave. Scout, MissMaudie and Aunt Alexandra rejoin the ladies at tea.

Jem and Dill witnessed what happened when Atticus toldHelena about Tom’s death. They were walking back from swimming at Barker’s Eddywhen they saw Atticus driving by. Atticus didn’t have to say anything to her,she understood from the look on his face what happened, and fainted. Atticusand Calpurnia gently lifted her up and took her inside her house.

Jem tells Scout that he heard that Mr. Ewell had threatenedthem again, saying that there was one down and two to go. Jem believes that itsan empty threat and warns Scout not to worry, and not to breathe a word toAtticus, if she did he won’t speak to her.

School starts and Scout rarely sees Jem since he attendsHigh School now. She’s in third grade now, and sometimes she has to pass theRadley house alone, but she is no longer afraid as she used to be of the place.Passing the house made her think more about Boo Radley and regret tormentinghim the way they used to.

Scout is confused by her teacher, who strongly feels thatAdolf Hitler’s prosecution of the Jew is wrong, while she heard her at thetrial saying ugly things about Tom Robinson, and how this should teach them alla lesson.

Later Scout asked Jem about it, why Miss Gates hates Hitler, feelswhat he does is wrong, and yet feels Tom Robinson's verdict is justified becausehe's black, Jem gets very angry and yells at her and not talk about that trialto him ever again.
When she goes to Atticus for comfort he tells her that Jemis just trying to come to terms with something in his head, and when he doeshe'll start being himself again.


- Do you think that if Tom Robinson was alive till the time of the appeal, would he win it? could he ever be a free man again
- Miss Maudie said that Atticus made the jury stay out for a long time and that alone was a baby step towards equality, do you agree?

Review and questions by Ateka.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird Discussion: Chapters 11-20

As we enter the second set of chapters for our book discussion, pressure is growing on Jim and Scout in Maycombe as their father continues to defend accused black laborer Tom Robinson. The prejudice of many of the townspeople appears in mean, spiteful comments by schoolchildren towards
the two children about their father's work. In the case of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, her mean attack on Atticus is enough to send Jim over the edge, cutting and hacking at the old lady's Camellia flowers. Partly as punishment, Atticus sends Jim to read to Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose every evening as she lies in bed, every evening growing quieter and quieter until she sends Jim (and Scout) away. When Mrs. Dubose passes away Atticus reveals that reading to her was a lesson for Jim in true bravery, as Mrs. Dubose had been trying to break herself of a morphine addiction the whole time Jim was going to read to her.The summer wears on, and Calpurnia takes the children to her church while Atticus is away - they have a chance to see how the black community of Maycombe lives, far away from the rest of the society they know, and hear more about Tom Robinson's family, who suffer as tom is unable to work while in jail. Soon afterward Aunt Alexandra appears, in an attempt to "teach the children some manners" and have a mother figure around the house. Aunt Alexandra has very specific ideas of the Finch family's place in society, and how they rank among the different social classes of the town, ideas that Scout rejects.

Dill reappears, having run away from his parents. Atticus arranges for Dill to stay the summer as he has in the past. Though happy to see Dill, the children are worried by the darker turn the Tom Robinson case has taken. First, a group of men from town appear at Atticus' door to get him to drop the case. Then, Atticus leaves home for the county jail, to keep Tom Robinson from being lynched by a mob of angry townspeople unwilling to let the case come to trial. They back off only when Scout appears with Jim and dill, and reminds the men that they are individuals after all, with children of their own, and not simply a senseless mob. Scout struggles to understand how people she knows, like Mr. Cunningham, would be willing to kill another person without a trial, or threaten Atticus to do so.

One day not long after, the children notice a commotion all around town- it seems that anybody and everybody is coming to Maycombe. Talking to their neighbor, Miss Maudie, they find out that the trial of Tom Robinson is taking place, and they rush to observe the events. Finding a place with the black church community upstairs, they watch as the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, and Atticus examine the first witness, Sherriff Heck Tate. Tom Robinson stands accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a member of the lower class Ewell family who live out in the back woods and whose patriarch, Bob Ewell, is a notorious drunkard. Atticus gets Sherriff Tate to admit that Mayella was beaten up all on the right side of her face - her right side. It is very unlikely Tom Robinson beat her up, as his left arm is useless following an accident with a piece of farm machinery.

Bob Ewell takes the stand, treating Atticus with contempt and asserting that Tom Robinson raped his daughter, as though his word alone is enough to condemn Tom. Atticus points out that Bob did nothing to help his daughter after the alleged rape, such as calling a doctor, and tricks Mr. Ewell into showing that he is left-handed - and thus more likely to have beaten up his daughter than Tom Robinson. Mayella Ewell follows her father to the stand, telling a story of Tom Robinson taking advantage of her after she asks for his help in breaking apart a chiffarobe, a kind of wardrobe. Atticus, while treating her with all politeness and kindness, shows how flimsy her testimony is, riddled with contradictions. When Mayella breaks down and runs off, a brief recess allows the children something of a break in the proceedings.

Finally, Atticus Finch calls Tom Robinson to take the stand. Tom tells his own version of the story: As he was passing by the Ewell residence, Mayella asked him for help busting up a chiffarobe, and he gladly helped her without asking for money. This wasn't the first time though - she asked for his help again and again on many occasions and each time he obliged. Finally, one day she tried to kiss him, and he pulled back, aware of the dangerous position this would put him in, and had to flee when bob Ewell arrived. Atticus leaves it to the court's imagination what Bob Ewell did when he saw his daughter trying to kiss a black man. Sickened by the proceedings, Dills feels he has to leave to court, and Scout goes with him.

They return just in time for Atticus' closing statement. His damning statement asserts that not one shred of evidence has shown that any rape took place, while laying out an alternate series of events: Mayella Ewell, neglected by her father and constantly beset by her many younger siblings, longed for any kind of escape, and so took to inviting Tom Robinson over just to have some kind of company. When she tried to kiss
him, though, her father saw and beat her terribly for the offence. The story of Tom attacking her was made up later to cover up what Bob Ewell had done. Atticus calls on the equality of men before the law guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence as a guideline for the jury in carrying out the truth of the law rather than the easy way of following what society already expected. Asking the jury to do their duty in the name of God, he then finishes his statement just as Calpurnia appears in court.

Review written by Andrew Leber, State Dept.

Question: What do you think of Atticus's ways of dealing with his children? Throughout he's criticized about how he raised them, do you think people are justified with their criticism?

Question by Noor

Thursday, August 11, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird Discussion: Chapters 1-10

Scout and Jem are Atticus's kids. Jem is the eldest and scout looks up to him. They live in Maycoumb. Scout and Jem are somewhat obsessed with one of their neighbors who are an oddity. The Radley's. They have a son who was involved in crimes around the town until one day his father gives his word to a judge that he won't cause harm anymore. So the son, Boo Radley is more or less locked up at home. Dill comes to visit one summer. He has an aunt who lives in the neighborhood. Jem and Scout tell him all they know about the Radleys. Dill dares Jem to go and touch the Radley house. After much hesitation he does it. Dill unfortunately has to leave as the school year's about to start. Scout's first day in first grade is terrible. She's lectured by the teacher because she can read and write. Her father reassures her that they'll continue their secret lessons as long as she keeps going to school. You meet the cunninghams who are poor yet proud people and the Elays who are mannerless and they only come to school on the first day.

Next summer arrives and Dill is back. The summer before they used to act plays of their own, but now they start a dangerous game. Playing the Radleys. They once heard that Boo Radley stabbed his father in the thigh so Jem and Dill act that scene among others. One day Atticus sees them and gets suspicious.

On Dill's last day, they all go to the Radley's house peeping in. A gunshot is heard, and as they rush outside, Jem's pants are stuck and so he leaves them there. Atticus and the neighbors are outside, saying that Mr. Radley shot a black man. They ask Jem about his pants, and Dill quickly says he won them in strip-poker. Atticus asks him to get them back. Jem leaves that night to retrieve them from the Radleys house despite Scout's pleas.

We then meet Uncle Jack around christmas. They all go to their aunt's place. Scout, who's very hot-tempered, gets into a fight with her cousin because he called her dad a nigger-lover. Atticus takes them back home. Scout told Uncle Jack all about the incident because everyone thought it was Scout's fault. She made him promise not to tell her dad because she promised Atticus she wouldn't fight anyone talking bad about him and instead walk with her head held high.

Snow arrives. Jem and Scout see it for the first time. They even make a snowman that looks like one of their neighbors. They borrow snow from Miss Maudie's yard. Miss Maudie is very nice to them, she always makes cake for them and loves her plants dearly. Scout spends some time with her during the summer when Jem and Dill won't include her in their games. They talk about many things, including the Radleys. Sadly enough, her house catches fire one day and the fire even extends to the Finch's house. She's doesn't grieve the fact that her house is destroyed because she always dreamed of wrecking it herself.

A tree standing on the way Jem and Scout take to school, has holes where they find things. First Scout finds chewing them, then they both find a watch, a packet of chewing gum and 2 dolls that looking exactly like them. They wonder who puts things there till one day they find that the holes have been cemented. Mr Radley tells Jem he did it because the tree was dying. Jem asks his father if it is, but Atticus says it's not.

A mad dog shows up in their neighborhood one day. Calpurnia, their maid, calls Atticus and tells him about it. He and another man show up with a rifle to kill it. Calpurnia warns everyone and the street's soon deserted. Atticus shoots the dog.

Review written by Noor.

Which chapter did you like best? Which character interests you the most? Ask the questions that came to your mind when reading the 10 chapters for the other members to answer and leave the points that you'd want to discuss with us here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Second Bookclub Selection Starts Today

Reading To Kill A Mocking Bird starts today, so grab your copy, get comfy and start reading with the rest of us. A review of the first 10 chapters will be on our blog by the 11th of August, and at 9.30 pm join us here to discuss those assigned chapters where we can exchange our thoughts and understand the book better.

Don't forget to write down any questions you might have, or anything you'd like to discuss in those chapters. This way we can ensure a rich reading experience for all of us.

Here's a link to the pdf version if you can't get a copy of the book: 

Happy reading everyone.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August Book Club Starts Tomorrow!

We'd like to announce that our second bookclub starts tomorrow. The August selection is To Kill A Mockingbird and here's the schedule.

Reading starting date: 7th of August.
Discussion of chapters (1 to 10): 11th of August.
Discussion of chapters (11-20): 16th of August
Discussion of chapters (21-26): 19th of August.

A total of 13 days in which we'll read 10 chapters in 5 days, and the 6 remaining chapters in 3 days to have the final discussion on the 19th of this month.

We reduced the number of discussion sessions this time to fit with everyone's busy schedule in Ramadhan, hence the timing of the live discussions are now at 9:30 PM. We hope it'd be convenient for all.

So get your copy ready and if you don't have one, you can download the e-book from here:

See you tomorrow!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Events: Book Fair Donation Needed

"BankMuscat is holding a charity book fair in Ramadhan, date to be advised. They are collecting stories and any other books suitable for children and young adults, in addition to family-related books". For more information, read the details in the pictures below.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

August Book Club Selection: To Kill a Mockingbird

Since we didn't receive any response on the previous post in which we asked about title suggestions, we’d like to announce that To Kill a Mockingbird is the choice we made for August, let us know if you’re willing to take part and commit to the reading schedule and the discussion sessions so we could start. Again, without your contribution and willingness to read with us, the bookclub wouldn’t work out so we’re waiting for your approval.

Born Under a Million Shadows | Andrea Busfield

Born Under a Million Shadows ~ Andrea Busfield

By: Kitten
Blog: Hallucinations of a Kitten

Fawad, an 11 year old Afghan boy who goes through a lot of life-changing situations from his early years. The Taliban break in his house, taking away his elder sister Mina and killing Bilal, his older brother who was the man of the house after the death of his Dad. His mother survived the beating and came crawling out of the wreckage.

Fawad & mother Mariya live in the house of the aunt who hates them with a passion, that one day, she tries to kill her and when the suffering becomes unbearable they find another place to live in. Mariya is invited to stay and work at a forigner's house along with her son and both of them pack and go to their new home.

There, Fawad's learns English and practices it with Georgie, May and James who instantly become best friends. The story tells us more of the hard life the Afghans have, through the eyes of this little kid Fawad and his journey towards knowing the facts about his country.

Personal opinion: This is a very light read, the writer's style is so simple yet detailed but you could finish this book in a few hours if you assed the time for it.

Rating: 6.5/10 and even though it might sound like Hosseini's The Kite Runner, it's not. One way to find out is to read it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Kafka on the Shore | Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore ~ Haruki Murakami

By: Noor
Blog: Spreading My Wings

Kafka on the Shore deals with a lot of issues, and the one issue that really struck a cord with me is emptiness. How your soul can be empty, why and how far will you go to fill that emptiness. One character said he had only half of a shadow. Being empty inside. How many of us felt this way at one time or another? Some of us have lived for a long time now feeling empty inside. What is it that makes us feel whole? Is it what we go through in life, if it is then it's no fault of yours that you feel empty. Life and time are the only things that control this feeling. You do what you can, but at the end you're not the one who decides what things you go through and feel.

It's about a 15 year old boy, who gives himself the name Kafka. He travels, meets new people and sees the world for the first time. Strange things happen. Strange is a understatement. We follow his self-discovery journey as well as the journey of Nakata, who's not very bright, but can talk to cats. He undergoes a journey as well.

Personal opinion: Murakami's love of music can be felt throughout this novel, I'm clueless when it comes to classical music but I enjoyed reading about it. I also love that he mentions books and reading a lot. His style of writing makes you keep you reading. He has a very unique way of describing things. Take the following couple of quotes as an example:

"Her smile steps offstage for a moment, then does an encore, and all the while I'm dealing with my blushing face."

"Her tone of voice is rough and unyielding, like a loaf of bread someone forgot on the back of a shelf."

Those take you off your guard, and you start wondering how does he come up with such phrases? That's one of the reasons I enjoyed reading Kafka. There was a lot that the book was trying to say. Sometimes it got too much, Murakami is impatient sometimes to get his point across and you're trying to catch up with him. The story itself feels like a full circle somehow. Every single thing leads to another, until you understand the whole picture. I took a break from Kafka, because it became too intense for me. How much could I accept and how much should I reject? That was something that I thought a lot about. The book needs a lot of imagination, and I have that. It's just that he goes far and beyond anything else, and that is a bit unnerving. You can relate to some of the characters, while what some go through is just something weird and new. That's exciting though sometimes. I think that's why I rated it 3/5. On the whole, I enjoyed it a lot but The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is better for me.

Some beautiful quotes:

I'm the lonely voyager standing on the deck, and she's the sea. The sky is a blanket of grey, merging with the grey sea on the horizon. It's hard to tell the difference between sea and sky. Between voyager and sea. Between reality and the workings of the heart.

I go back to the reading room, where I sink down in the sofa and into the world of The Arabian Nights. Slowly, like a film fade-out, the real world evaporates. I'm alone, inside the world of the story. My favourite feeling in the world.

A dense artistic imperfection stimulates your consciousness, keeps you alert. If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I'm driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there. But listening to the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of - that certain type of perfection can only be realised through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging.

After cooking and eating a simple meal I go out on the porch and gaze up at stars. Even in a planetarium you wouldn't find this many. Some of them look really big and distinct, almost as if you could reach out and touch them. The whole thing is breathtaking.

Not just beautiful, though - the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they're watching me. What I've done up till now, what I'm going to do - they know it all. Nothing gets past their watchful eyes. As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart's pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I've never given them more than a passing thought before. Not only the stars - how many other things haven't I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about? I suddenly feel helpless, completely powerless, and I know I'll never outrun that awful feeling.

Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear.

Things change everyday, Mr. Nakata. With each new dawn it's not the same world as the day before. And you're not the same person you were, either.

Time expands, then contracts, all in tune with the stirrings of the heart.

Love can rebuild the world, they say, so everything's possible when it comes to love.

"We're all dreaming, aren't we?" She says. All of us are dreaming.

You know you should say something, but don't have any idea what. Words have all died in the hollow of time, piling soundlessly at the dark bottom of a volcanic lake.

Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.

I recommend it to anyone who's never read anything by Murakami, and wants to read something that stimulates him, and to enjoy a book that is written with passion.

My Rating: 7/10

Monday, July 25, 2011

2nd Book Club Read Titles Suggestions

We apologise for being late in bringing up this post but since a lot of us have been busy enjoying their summer out of town, we thought it'd be convenient to start now.

Our team and with the help of the US embassy have chosen To Kill a Mockingbird out of a list but we'd like to hear your thoughts, would you like to read the chosen book with us or do you have other suggestions in mind? Leave at least 2 titles and those mentioned most frequently shall make it to the voting poll. By Wednesday, we'd announce which book and we'd immediately start reading on Thursday, making Saturday our first live discussion of our second book club read.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Traditional Omani Musical Instruments | Oman Centre

Traditional Omani Musical Instruments ~ Oman Centre

By: Omani Princess

Blog: How To Live Like An Omani Princess

"Traditional Omani Musical Instruments", published by the Omani Centre for Traditional Music in 2004, is an illustrated elaboration of a survey carried out by the Ministry of Information to document the Sultanate's musical heritage in 1983/198.

Drawn by the beautiful coloured illustrations of Omani men and women in traditional dress and their instruments at various cultural functions across the different regions of the country, I picked the book up, choosing its English translation (also available in Arabic) from the Ministry of Information.

As a reference work, the guide summarizes different types of instruments by their structure, how they are played, and the material and methods of their design and construction. It also gives information as to their origin, evolution, what occasions and types of music they are favoured for, and what regions of the Sultanate they are commonly found in.

Myself, virtually being a musical-ignorant, I found that while this is not a heavily detailed account of individual instruments, the book is a great introduction to them, and the pictures generally communicate anything that the compilers of the endeavour neglected.

For more information about how to attain the book visit or visit the Ministry of Information's "Oman Centre for Traditional Music".

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Five People you Meet in Heaven | Mitch Albom

The Five People you Meet in Heaven ~ Mitch Albom

By: Jinan Al-Harthy

Eddie is a maintenance guy at Ruby Pier, an amusement park he'd visited every weekend as a child, and worked in almost all his adult life. Having outlived everyone he'd ever cared about, Eddie is killed on his 83rd birthday trying to save a little girl from a deadly accident. The first 20 pages or so track Eddie's last hour alive. He then proceeds to heaven, where he consecutively meets five different people who have been long dead, but have once-upon-a-time impacted his life, one way or another. Through flashbacks and stories entwined in stories, viewed from different angles, they one by one help him reflect on his life and understand certain events that were always a source of confusion and constant nuisance for him. After all Eddie's emotions are drained and doubts cleared, he finally drifts into a setting of his choice- his very own heaven. He there rests in peace, awaiting the death of an earthly being, whom he would, in time, be one of "its" five people, sharing with "it" a lesson on life and finally getting his closure.

Personal opinion: Writing this review, I realised how gloomy this book must sound. However, it was surprisingly fresh and colourful for a book about death and dying. It has its dark moments of course; war, child abuse, sacrifice and cancer, but it is also full of ferris wheels and birthday cakes and wedding celebrations. The idea of this book is quite interesting. I continue to be fascinated by the different unorthodox interpretations of heaven different books and movies have to offer, and The Five People you Meet in Heaven is not an exception. Having said that, however, I'm not sure the story itself has lived up to my expectations. Although simply told and easy to follow, the story wasn't well-developed. I found it to be rather slow-paced and lacking in depth and substance, and it did not have a distinct identity. It just wasn't sad enough, or funny enough, or frustrating enough. It felt like I was reading one of those inspirational Chicken-Soup-like self-help books, only it failed to inspire, or, for the most part, touch me.

Rating: 4/10. A plot with good potential but a lot more could have been done to develop it.

Recommendation: Someone looking for a quick read and a book that is often featured as one of the top 100 most popular novels. Only a couple of hundred pages long, it shouldn't take you more than a few hours to go through and cross off that list.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PopCo | Scarlett Thomas

PopCo ~ Scarlett Thomas

By: Fatima Makki

This book revolves around the character of Alice Butler. She works in a massive toy corporation, the third largest one in the world, and works as a ‘creative’, thinking up new, cool toys for pre-teen kids, most of which revolve around code-breaking and spy-kits, etc. Her company, PopCo, sends off a select group of the employees to a secluded sprawling residence owned by their enigmatic CEO, Mac. Their mission is to remain at the residence until they come up with a brand new blockbuster product. As time goes by, we begin to learn a lot about Alice’s past, about her fascinating grandparents’ history as cryptanalyst (code-maker) and mathematician, and events at the residence start to unfold which show that PopCo’s shiny, colorful exterior belies the darker machinations that lie beneath.

Personal Opinion: I absolutely love this book. As I got towards the final part of the book, I found myself reading faster and more frequently, whilst at the same time making a conscious effort to slow down because I didn’t want the book to end! That to me is always the sign of a great book. This is my third book by the Scarlett Thomas, and she has definitely not failed my expectations.

There are so many layers to this book it’s very difficult to pinpoint just one thing I love about it: the flashbacks to Butler’s childhood are poignant and explain a lot about what has shaped her personality; there is a lot to learn in this book about mathematics, code-breaking and code-making, obscure information about WWII,
and so much more, there’s a sub-plot involving buried pirate treasure, there’s some romance thrown in. I mean really, this book has it all! I still have one or two unanswered questions regarding some of the storyline, but that is more than compensated for by the author’s brilliant story-telling and all the wonderful twists and turns. As well as being highly entertaining, it is equally thought-provoking.

My rating: 10/10

Recommendation: Since the main character is a woman (and a fascinating one at that), I would think that the book would resonate more with women, especially young girls, as this book can almost be described as a coming of age story of a modern woman. It’s a good way of explaining morality to young teenage girls without being too preachy. But on the other hand, all the code-breaking, espionage, and pirate tales are stereotypically masculine hobbies. Basically, I’d give this to teens or young adults. If you like a good mystery, and food for thought, this is for you!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bombay Duck is a Fish | Kanika Dhillon

Bombay Duck is a Fish ~ Kanika Dhillon

By: Varsha Naik
Blogs: /

Like countless others, Neki Brar moves from her quiet hometown, Amritsar to the big bustling city – Mumbai, to turn her dreams into a reality. Her dream is a simple one really, to be a top film-maker in the city that made many stars. Till one day it’s all too much for her, and she decides to throw it all away, right off her fifth floor apartment window.

Neki takes us through days of her life as penned in her diary, Nano. As she stumbles through the days, on the set and off, she discovers that truly all that glitters is not gold. And that behind every charming face is someone trying to step up the ladder while crushing you underfoot.

Her story is one of love and hate, roommates and colleagues, friendship and betrayal, success and failure. Neki discovers the single-most important truth of life - that to move ahead in life, you must be able to move on from life’s challenges.

Personal Opinion: As I read the synopsis on the back of the cover at the airport store, the book immediately struck a chord with me, on two distinct yet intertwined notes.

Five years ago, my beautiful confident sister hung herself in her apartment in Mumbai, shattering all my misconceptions that she had finally figured it out, finding the job and the life she was looking for. Rocking my world on the way out, she made me re-think everything I think and feel and reorganise what my life should be like. This book is as close to getting inside her head as I will ever be, and for that I am grateful, for now I can begin to understand some of the turmoil.

Five years after that tragic moment, I stand on the threshold of a new beginning. Planning to move to Mumbai to find the life that I believe is out there for me. Nervous about the future, but confident that I have what it takes to find a footing and keep my sanity, this book is like a sign. Tread carefully in the days ahead, and remember that you need to believe in yourself above everyone else to stay happy.
As daunting as the realisation that the Bombay Duck is a fish, the book paints the true picture of life in Mumbai, though I belive this can be extended to life almost anywhere in the world. At the same time as sending a chill down your spine, Kanika's rendition of life in Mumbai will leave a glimmer of hope somewhere admist the chaos.

My rating: 10/10

I recommend this book to those who are looking for change, to better their lives. It’s not a heartwarming story, but the sadness and depth of it makes you see a new meaning in life. I don’t recommend it to children below 18 who are too innocent to understand the dark undertones of the story. And better that way, that they stay protected by the bitter realities of life for as long as possible.

The Eyre Affair | Jason Fforde

The Eyre Affair ~ Jason Fforde

By: Andrew Leber, U.S State Department

In The Eyre Affair, author Jason Fforde draws on the entirety of Western literary history to create a fantastic mixture: part detective novel, part adventure story, part romance and part alternate history. Thursday Next is a Spec-Ops Literary Detective in London, England, charged with protecting the public from literary forgeries and manuscript theft. Throughout the novel, she is tasked with trying to outwit master criminal Acheron Hades while fighting vampires, navigating Shakespearian gang wars, and dealing with the effects of the still-ongoing Crimean war. The heart of the novel, though, is when Thursday Next gains the ability to travel inside great works of fiction such as Jane Eyre – only to find that Hades is already there and waiting for her.

Personal Opinion: This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting books I have read in years, and I barely set it down until I had finished with it. Despite the confusion caused by the novel’s alternative-reality setting, Jason Fforde manages to create an entirely believable world without loading the chapters with too much detail. Fforde does, however, draw on British and American literary references for everything from character names to insider jokes, which can make the book a bit hard to follow if you are not that familiar with the right names or book titles. Still, if you take the time to look up what you don’t understand then The Eyre Affair makes a wonderful and humorous introduction to Western literary history.

Recommended for: Anybody familiar with or looking to be familiar with British and American literature, anybody who has ever wanted to travel inside the books they’ve read, and all fans of science fiction

My Rating: 8/10

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Deathly Hallows Final Discussion: Chapters 31-Epilogue

Chapter 31
All staff, students and members of the Order have gathered in the Great Hall to prepare for the battle. McGonagall was explaining that younger students will be evacuated with the help of prefects and some staff members. Older students may stay if they want to fight. Suddenly, the cold loud voice of Voldemort interrupts McGonagall. Voldemort wanted Harry; if Harry was given to him before midnight he will not fight. With only half an hour till midnight, evacuating students started through the Room of Requirement.

Harry left the Hall as the staff, members of the Order and students started to form a battle plan. He was still thinking about the Horcrux. It was in Hogwarts, that, he was sure of. But what and where it is, he didn’t know. The only thing that is connected to Ravenclaw was the Lost Diadem. No one had ever seen it “in living memory”. This gave Harry an idea, with the help of Nearly Headless Nick, Harry found The Gray Lady, the Ravenclaw Tower ghost. After questioning her, Harry found out that she is Ravenclaw’s daughter and she stole her mother’s diadem and hid it in a forest in Albania. It took Harry a minute to make the connection, Voldemort must have went there and retrieved the diadem and hid it in the room of Hidden Things. Exactly in the same place where Harry have hidden the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book.

Harry started to run towards the Room of Requirement, and from the sounds he heard it was obvious that the battle has started. He found Ron and Hermione on the way. They had curved, yellowish and dirty objects in their arms. They explained that they have gone to the Chamber of Secrets to get the Basilisk fangs, which they will use to finish off the Horcruxes. Hermione had destroyed the cup using it.

Harry explains to the other two what he just found out and they all went to the Room of Requirement. They walk inside of the Room of Hidden Things and start searching for the diadem. Each of them goes to separate ways to search faster. Crabbe, Goyle and Malfoy stop Harry when he locates the diadem. A fight starts between them and Goyle sets the room on fire. Harry manages to get the tiara before it gets buried in that pile of junk. Harry, Ron and Hermione leave the room on broomsticks assisting Malfoy and Goyle. The fire killed Crabbe. Once they are out of the room Harry realizes that the Horcrux was destroyed by the magical fire.

As they leave the place, Fred and Percy come into view. Both are dueling hooded figures. One of the figures appears to be the Minister, Percy declares to him that he quits. Fred laughed at this, taking what Percy had said as a joke. In a second, the wall seemed to have fallen on them all. Harry heard somone saying "No! Fred! No!". As Harry struggled to stand up, he saw Ron and Percy kneeling beside Fred. His body motionless, his eyes were blank with the ghost of his last joke.

Chapter 32
Curses flew through the gap in the wall. Harry, Hermione, Ron and Percy dragged Fred’s body from where it lay to a safer place. Percy leaves them to help in the battle while Harry and Hermione drag Ron behind a tapestry. Hermione and Ron argue about what to do next. Ron wants to fight while Hermione wants them to stay focused and find the snake and end it all. Hermione instructs Harry to look inside Voldemort. Harry sees him in the Shrieking Shack with Lucius Malfoy. He sent Lucius to find Snape. Harry informs the other two of what he saw.

They all leave the castle beneath the Invisibility Cloak heading towards the Whomping Willow, keeping their heads down to avoid curses that flew all over the place. They go inside the tunnel that leads into the Shrieking Shack, stopping at the very end of the tunnel. From where he sat, Harry could clearly see Nagini in an enchanted sphere. Snape was inside with Voldemort. Voldemort was telling him how the Elder Wand, the greatest wand of all, wasn’t working as it was supposed to work, as it had promised. All the magic he could do with it was rather ordinary, nothing extraordinary. He thinks it's Snape’s fault. He thinks that Snape was the true owner of the wand because he was the one who killed its last owner, Dumbledore. That is why Voldemort must kill Snape for the wand to work properly. Voldemort orders Nagini to kill Snape. Voldemort left the Shrieking Shack leaving Snape to die.

Harry, Ron and Hermione stepped inside. As Harry kneeled down beside Snape, something bluish was gushing out of Snape’s wounds, it was neither gas nor liquid. Harry recognized it as a memory. Harry gathered the memory into a flask that Hermione had just conjured. “Look… at…. Me..” Snape whispered to Harry as his hold on Harry loosened. Their eyes met for a moment, then Snape’s hand fell on the floor, his body moved no more.

Chapter 33
Harry was still kneeling beside Snape’s limp body when he hears Voldemort’s magically magnified voice spoke in his cold voice. He calls his Death Eaters to come to him in the Forbidden Forest. He gives Harry an hour to surrender, if he doesn’t, he will join the battle himself and kill everyone and anyone willing to save Harry.

The trio head back to the castle. The place is unnaturally silent. They go up to the Great Hall where everyone has gathered. The hurt were being taken care of by Madam Pomfrey and some helpers. The dead bodies were in the middle of the hall with family and friends surrounding them. The Weasleys stood around Fred and next to Fred lay Lupin and Tonks.

Ron and Hermione joined the Weasleys, but Harry couldn’t stand seeing all the people who died for him. He left the Great Hal and ran with all his might till he found himself in front of the stone gargoyle that guards the headmaster’s office. He enters the office and empties Snape’s memories in the pensive to look at them.

What Harry sees in the pensive shocked him. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily, since he was a boy. He was the first one to tell her that she was a witch. They were best friends for a long time, till their fifth year at Hogwarts. Lily never talked to Snape after he insulted her and called her a Mudblood. Even though Snape tried to apologise, Lily didn't accept it.

The next memory was after both left Hogwarts. Snape was waiting for Dumbledore. He told Dumbledore that Voldemort knew about the prophecy and he thinks it refers to Lily Potter’s son, Harry. Voldemort will kill them all and Dumbledore must hide her and her family, and he, Snape, will do anything in return. Another memory unfolds with Snape in Dumbledore’s office. Dumbledore tells Snape that Lily is dead and her son survived. He asks Snape to keep Harry safe. Snape consented only after Dumbledore swore that he would never tell Harry that he loved Lily.

Everything starts to get clearer with every memory Harry sees; another one shows Dumbledore after getting hurt in his hand. The curse that hurt his hand was very old and incurable. Snape helped slow down the effect of the curse, but it will spread eventually and kill Dumbledore. After this Dumbledore makes Snape swear to kill him, and not let Draco Malfoy do it. Which was a job Voldemort assigned for Malfoy.

Another memory unfolds where Dumbledore tells Snape that Harry should surrender himself to Voldemort and let him kill him when Voldemort starts keeping his snake safe with him. Because when Voldemort tried killing Harry, the curse rebounded on him because of the protection Lily gave Harry. A part of Voldemort’s soul was blasted and lives in Harry’s body. This shocked and angered Snape, thinking that what he did to save and protect Harry was useless.

More memories revealed themselves to Harry. One was with Dumbledore’s portrait giving instructions to Snape on what to do on Harry’s departure from the Dursley's house. Another one was in Sirius’s bedroom in Grimauld Place. A crying Snape had taken the remaining of Lily’s letter, the page that was signed with Lily’s love. He also tore half of the picture; he took the part that shows Lily laughing. The last one was when Snape discovered the trio’s hiding place and he took Gryffindor’s sword to them.

Chapter 34
Harry sat in Dumbledore’s office after all of those memories he had seen. Everything was now clear. He finally knew the truth. He had to die. He hid beneath the Invisibility Cloak and made his way from the office to the forest. He decided not to say goodbye, this way it’d be easier for him to leave. He paused by the entrance and saw Neville and Oliver Wood carrying the dead bodies from the grounds to the Great Hall. Harry followed Neville as he went out to the grounds again. Harry took off the cloak and told him if anything happens to him, he must kill Voldemort’s snake.

With every step Harry took towards the Forest, he realized how precious life was. Suddenly, he remembered the Snitch, he kissed it and whispered “I am about to die”. The Snitch opened, the Resurrection Stone fell into Harry’s hand. When he turned it in his hand, the figures of his parents, Sirius and Lupin appear by his side. The all walk together till Harry reaches the clearing where Voldemort and his Death Eaters all sat in silence. Harry walks into the clearing without even taking out his wand. It takes Voldemort a minute to send the green flash towards Harry.

Chapter 35
As Harry wakes up, he realizes that he is no longer in the Forest. He’s in a large domed white. The place was misty, when he looked around he found Dumbledore. Dumbledore explained everything to Harry. He explained how Voldemort did make seven Horcruxes, and Harry was the seventh. He explained that Voldemort himself killed the part of his soul that lived in Harry.

Dumbledore explains about the Hallows. He told Harry that the Cloak he inherited from his father was the same one the old legend referred to. He explains about his past, his family, his brief friendship with Grindelwald, and his duel with him so many years ago. He is ashamed of what had happened and the fact he didn’t stop it before things get out of his hands.

At the end Harry wonders if he must go back. Dumbledore tells it’s his choice to stay or go. Harry decides to go back.

Chapter 36
Harry was lying facedown in the Forest; he heard voices and footsteps around him. All seemed to be heading towards Voldemort. The voices seemed concerned, something must have happened to Voldemort when he sent the Killing Curse. Dismissing everyone who came to his aid, Voldemort stood up and ordered someone to check if Harry was dead. It was a woman, as she knelt beside Harry and felt his pulse she asked in a whisper whether or not Draco was inside the castle, alive. When said yes, Narcissa Malfoy stood up and declared Harry dead. All Death Eaters yelled in triumph. Voldemort decides to go up to the castle, and show them all that Harry was dead. He made Hagrid, who had seen all that happened earlier, take Harry’s body. They all march up to the castle.

Once they reach the entrance to the castle, the Hogwarts fighters come out and are shocked to see Harry dead. Harry, still pretending to be dead, is hurt as he hears their grief for him. Neville breaks free from the group fighter, his wand pointed to Voldemort, but Voldemort disarms him and tortures him. Suddenly many things happen at once. The centaurs shoot arrows at the Death Eaters, someone threw the Sorting Hat from a window above, and Grawp bursts from the Forest. The sorting hat fell in front of Neville, who pulled the Sword of Gryffindor from it and cut Nagini’s head off.

Harry slips beneath the cloak, and follows everyone as they go into the castle again. Voldemort and his Death Eaters battle fiercely. Harry follows Voldemort all the time to finish him off. Mrs. Weasley kills Bellatrix in a fierce duel. Voldemort turns to kill Mrs. Weasley but Harry manages to place a shield charm in front her and reveals himself to Voldemort.

The room grows quite as Harry and Voldemort circle each other. Harry explains to him the true character of Severus Snape, saying that his death didn’t make Voldemort the true master of the Elder Wand. Voldemort does not believe anything Harry tells him. When Voldemort cast the Killing Curse, Harry sent a disarming charm that made the killing curse rebound on its caster, Voldemort dies.

Everyone is happy and they all keep asking Harry for more details on what had happened. After a long time, Harry wants nothing more than to be alone and to sleep. With the help of Luna, he, Ron and Hermione leave the Great Hall. Harry explains everything to them. Then they go up to the Headmaster’s office, and talks to Dumbledore’s portrait. Harry tells him that he left the Resurrection Stone in the Forest, and that he decided not to keep the Elder Wand. Dumbledore agrees with Harry’s choice. Before leaving the Elder Wand, Harry uses it to repair his old wand, the one he bought on his eleventh birthday.

Nineteen Years Later
The Potter family arrived at the barrier that leads to platform 9 ¾. Harry’s oldest son, James Sirius Potter, went through first. Harry, Ginny and their two kids, Albus Severus Potter and Lily Luna Potter go through the barrier together. James and Albus are leaving for Hogearts, but Lily was not old enough. Albus was starting his first year; he was worried that he might not be sorted into Gryffindor like his parents. They run into Ron and Hermione, who’s daughter, Rose was going to Hogwarts. Their other son, Hugo was also not old enough to go.

Harry has a word with his son, Albus, before he leaves, assuring him that it’s not so bad to be in Slytherin, and that if he was sure he wants to be in Gryffindor, he could tell the Sorting Hat. It all ends well.

1. When Harry, Ron and Hermione were trying to escape from the burning Room of Requirements, they saved Malfoy and Goyle. Over their years at Hogwarts, the trio always received bad treatment from Malfoy and Goyle. Do you think saving thing them was the right thing to do? Or they should have left them behind?

2. Severus Snape loved Lily all her life and after her death. How would Harry's attitude change towards Snape if he knew it all along?

3. If Ron and Hermione were with Harry when he saw Snape's memories do you think they would have let him accept the fact that he must die and everything would happen the way it did?

4. What was the ending you expected for the trio? (The Epilogue)

Review and questions by Ateka.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Deathly Hallows Discussion: Chapters 26-30

Harry, Ron and Heromine are finally on their way to Gringotts. Heromine takes the Polyjuice potion and changes to Bellatrix. The change is unsettling for her, but they embark on their journey with Harry and Griphook under the invisibility cloak, Ron looking physically different due to some spells and Heromine as the evil Bellatrix. They arrive in Diagon Alley, to find a Death Eater who insists on going with them to Gringotts.

They check Bellatrix's wand, thinking this is a new wand they allow her to enter. Some goblins raise objections due to the new regulations, Harry casts the imperious curse on the goblin leading them, so that he lets them through. Once they go deeper into Gringotts, Heromine's polyjuice potion stops working and Ron changes back to his usual self. They see the dragon guarding the bank. They soon enter the Lestrange vault, only to find many cups which replicate themselves if they're touched. They realize how serious the situation is, these cups burn and replicate once touched. They must be very careful, and fast since the goblins realized there's something going on there. They start going frantic, searching without avail. Heromine then casts a spell that gets Harry hung in the air to search for the Hufflepuff cup, he finds it and takes hold of it. Griphook takes the Gryffindor sword the first chance he can, and the trio realize that he didn't believe them when they promised it.

The vault opens, and Griphook runs to the goblins yelling 'Thieves'. Harry stuns the goblins, releases the dragon from its chains and tells Ron and Heromine to get on the dragon. The dragon's flames help making an opening for an escape, and Heromine helps with spells to enlarge it. They fly away, and for a long time wondering when will the dragon stop. After a while, the dragon starts descending and the trio jump into a lake.

Harry starts worrying about Voldemort and when he'll find out that the vault has been broken into and how they're looking for his horcruxes. Voldemort decides to check on his horcruxes and Harry learns that there's one in Hogwarts and that's where they should go.

They apparate into hogsmead at night, with all of them under the invisibility cloak. As soon as they're there, Death Eaters come out since they were clearly warned and they had charms at Hogsmead to detect any use of magic. They can't see them because they're under the cloak. They bring the dementors, and Harry produces a patronus and the Death Eaters know for sure that Harry is there. Suddenly, a man comes out of a shop and rescues the trio by convincing the Death Eaters that the patronus was his. He makes the trio enter his shop.

Harry realizes this is Dumbledore's brother, Aberforth. It was his eye he way seeing in the mirror, and it was him who sent Dobby to their rescue. They tell him that Dobby's dead, and he seems shaken by the news. Ron asks whether it was him who sent the doe, but Aberforth says no as his patrnous is a goat. He tells them to flee and hide, but Harry defends their quest saying Dumbledore left him with instructions he must follow. The argument heats up, and soon Aberforth is telling us their family story. They learn that Ariana, was attacked by muggle boys when they saw her practicing magic. She lost it, and became unable to control her use of magic. She accidently killed her mother, and so Dumbledore decided to go home and take care of his sister, though Aberforth volunteered to take care of his sister, Dumbledore wouldn't have it. He was doing fine, till his friend Gindelwald comes and they start planning their grand schemes. Aberforth warns Dumbledore, they get into a fight and soon the three of them are in a dual. She's there, and somebody's curse kills her.

The trio are astonished at what they learned. Harry tells Aberforth that Dumbledore feels guilty about that day, because he was hallucinating when he was with him saying "Don't hurt them, please... hurt me instead"

Then, they convince him that they must follow through with their plan. He says something to the portrait of his sister, and soon they see Neville Longbottom is coming towards them. He tells them how he was sure they were coming. He leads the way to Hogwarts and starts telling them about what the school has turned into. They arrive to the room of requirement. There, they find many of their old friends. They welcome them back, then they start discussing what could be the next horcrux, that's after their friends insist that they want to help. Harry asks about an object that belongs to Ravenclaw which might help them overthrow Voldemort. Cho tells them about diadem. Harry and Luna go to the Ravenclaw common room so that Harry can see what the diadem looks like because it appears in a portrait.

As soon as they enter, Alecto carrow touches her forearm and calls Voldemort. They're in serious danger as Harry feels Voldemort's happiness that Harry is found. Luna stuns her but it was very loud so it attracts attention. Professor McGonagall and professor Currow have an argument, and it leads to Currow spitting in her face. Harry gets seriously angry, removes the invisibility cloak and says 'crucio'. Harry explains to her how Voldemort knows he's here. McGonagall tells him that they'll protect the school and hold off Voldemort as long as they can. They decide that they should evacuate the school of students. Snape comes, and smells something suspicious. They fight, but other professors come to the rescue of McGonagall. Snape escapes and they all get to work. Harry returns to the room of requirements to find Lupin, Mr and Mrs Weasley and many others there. Everyone goes into action, Ginny wants to join them but her mother tells her that she's underage till they decide she'll wait at the room of requirements. Harry asks about Ron and Heromine, and they tell him they said something about a bathroom.

1. When Voldemort finds out that one horcrux is stolen, he assures himself that all the others are safe because he didn't feel them destroyed. He remembers not feeling it when the diary was destroyed but convinces himself it was because of the fact that he had no body. What do you think? How can he be so naive and sure of himself?

2. Meeting Alberforth was a turning point, they learned more about Dumbledore through him. Not all good things. Yet, Harry's conviction of Dumbledore's actions is stronger now. Now that you know the truth about Dumbledore's family, what do you think of him?

3. Harry doesn't want his friends to get involved in the fight, but in the end he has no choice but to agree. Why doesn't he want them to get involved when it's not his fight alone?

4. Percy coming back says a lot about loyalty to one's family. What did you think of it? They forgave him because he's their son, and the fact that he's back at such a crucial moment says a lot about him. How do you think this proves that one's true self shows in tough situations?

Review and questions by Noor.